drunk driver

At the risk of sounding like a cliche of the political novice, I do not find a whole lot of sense in either of the political angles presented to this paper last Friday on the topic of Gov. Rick Perry’s recent indictment. From the Democratic perspective, it appears that Perry is at the center of some type of grand conspiracy, nefariously scheming to silence a righteous prosecutor who was closing in on the hotbed of felonious lawbreaking going on at CPRIT. From the Republican perspective, it appears that Perry is a wondrous moral crusader, one who put his neck on the line to stand up against a drunk driver in the DA’s office. In reality, of course, it is not quite as exciting.

First, the notion that the investigation of CPRIT — the embattled cancer research institute long investigated for impropriety — is connected with the veto and threat in question is just completely untrue. A recent affidavit released to the public by Perry’s legal team shows that the Travis County DA’s office was not targeting Perry in its CPRIT investigation in any way.

Similarly, this indictment is not the work of a political hit-man. The entire Travis County DA’s office recused themselves from proceedings, and the brunt of the investigation was undertaken by Michael McCrum, a special prosecutor who is definitely not a Democrat. McCrum himself was first appointed to this case by Judge Bert Richardson, who is actually the Republican nominee for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals this year.

At its core, this indictment is about coercion. Perry threatened Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County DA, telling her that he would slash her funding if she did not resign. Yes, Lehmberg is a drunk driver who perhaps should have resigned anyway, but Aesop teaches us a tyrant always finds a pretext for tyranny. What if Perry had demanded UT President Bill Powers’ resignation, or threatened to veto the University’s appropriation from the state? He could have surely used the dubious allegations raised by Regent Wallace Hall. 

But the most important part of all this is that it is merely an indictment. I, for one, zealously look forward to a trial. But remember, UDems, this means he’s innocent until proven guilty. Innocent people don’t typically resign. 

Horwitz is a government junior from Houston. 

Austin Police Department Police Chief Art Acevedo called for a group of public transportation, law enforcement and criminal justice officials to discuss ways to reduce DWI incidents after a drunk driver killed a pedestrian in South Austin on Saturday, according to police. 

In a press conference Monday, Acevedo said the department has reported 22 fatal crashes this year, 12 of which involved alcohol or other drugs.

“As we continue to have more bars in our city, we continue to be the No. 1 drinking city in the state of Texas, despite the fact that we are not the largest city in the state of Texas,” Acevedo said. “I’m calling for the state, the county, the city and all of our partners in transportation and in criminal justice to come together and talk about how we can do better.”

Acevedo said the city needs to explore new and improved modes of transportation, including expanded bus routes, additional taxis and overnight parking.

Acevedo said he believes people who are arrested for DWI are often treated too leniently.

“If you look around Austin, Texas, and you see how many people are killing people drunk driving, they get probation and slaps on the wrist,” Acevedo said. “Enough is enough.”

Acevedo said he hopes to hold the summit during the first two weeks of May.

Police block off the roads after the SXSW car accident on March 13. After the accident, service organizations have been left to decide how to distribute more than $180,000 in funds raised to assist victims and their families.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

In the weeks after a suspected drunk driver plowed through a crowd of people at South By Southwest on March 13, service organizations have been left to decide how to distribute more than $180,000 in funds raised to assist victims and their families.

The Austin Police Department’s Victim Services Division, the Austin Community Foundation and the American Red Cross are working to evaluate the expenses of more than a dozen victims, whose injuries ranged from mild to critical.

“We’re assessing other needs they may have beyond what Crime Victims’ Compensation will cover or what their own insurance will cover,” said Kachina Clark, manager of APD Victim Services. “We are working with the Austin Community Foundation and the Red Cross because they have experience dealing with large-scale incidents and distribution of funds that are raised.”

The organizations will grant victims a portion of the funds based on their personal needs and available resources, Clark said.

“We’ll have to come up with some additional guidelines for distribution, but it’s going to be needs-based,” Clark said. “We’re still in the process of figuring it out.”

Robin Bradford, director of communications for the Austin Community Foundation, said more than 1,000 people and businesses have donated to the SXSW Cares Fund. The foundation helped set up the fund, along with SXSW and the Mohawk — the bar directly next to the crash site on Red River Street.

“We opened the fund in response to community outpouring,” Bradford said.

Many Austin-area businesses contributed, including Stubb’s BBQ, Juiceland and Home Slice Pizza.

In the weeks following the crash, APD’s Victim Services unit has worked directly with those injured, providing counseling services and assistance with applying for Crime Victims’ Compensation, which is offered through the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Those who apply for Crime Victims’ Compensation can be approved for benefits up to $50,000 per person, and those who are disabled as a result of a crime may qualify for an additional $75,000, according to the office’s website.

“Crime Victims’ Compensation will assist with medical bills and lost wages, but there’s a cap on that,” Clark said.

Shortly after the crash, each victim received $500 to cover immediate expenses, according to Clark. Now, counselors are in regular contact with victims to help them determine their current and future needs.

“You don’t know until insurance is billed what Crime Victims’ Compensation will cover,” Clark said. “Right now, this is so chaotic, and it was such a tragic event, that [victims] are just not sure at this point. This will be an ongoing process.”

Computer science sophomore Maria Belyaeva, who sustained multiple non-life-threatening injuries in the crash, said she doesn’t know much about how the funds will be distributed and is waiting to hear from APD.

“They’re still kind of deciding on who needs to get what based on things like who has been injured worse, who needs it more or who has the higher medical bills, and I’m not sure how it’s all going to work,” Belyaeva said.

Belyaeva said she appreciates the continued monetary support from APD.

“I’ve been in contact with them several times,” Belyaeva said. “They did give some immediate relief, which was nice.”

Austin suffered a tragic blow this spring break after a drunk driver at South By Southwest left two people dead and 23 people — including himself — injured early Thursday morning. News of the crash quickly spread through the UT community, inspiring students to take action.

UT’s chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity started taking donations soon after the incident, becoming one of the first organizations to raise money for the victims of the crash, according to David Maly, economics and journalism senior and the philanthropy chair for Sigma Pi. Maly said he posted on his fraternity’s Facebook group in the morning and people were on board.

“We think it’s a really important cause that’s really close to home for us,” said Maly, who formerly worked at The Daily Texan.

It was when he tried contacting SXSW about his fundraiser that he found out about SXSW Cares, a fund created by SXSW and venues such as the Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie’s. 

“We started this before anybody else really had anything going, and then, after they made that fund, it seemed like a good way to give it to the people,” Maly said. “We have the online effort and we’re going to try and table and reach out to local businesses. If anyone comes up with any other ideas, we’ll definitely explore them.”

All the money raised by the Sigma Pi fraternity will be donated to SXSW Cares, adding even more to the $75,000 SXSW Cares received in its first 24 hours of operation. As of Sunday night, Sigma Pi had raised almost $400 through an online campaign on gofundme.com.

The relief effort is not exclusive to raising money. After the incident, the hospital received an influx of patients, putting blood donations in high demand. With blood drives happening frequently on campus, Sigma Pi didn’t have to look far for an appropriately timed event. The Dean’s Scholars Honors Program holds an annual blood drive called Give Blood Give Life.

Alice Tong, biochemistry and chemical engineering senior and the organizer of Give Blood Give Life, partnered with Maly to dedicate the blood drive to the victims of the crash.

“Our organization has a blood drive every year around this time, so this had already been in the plans for months,” Tong said. “After the accident happened, especially after [Maly] contacted us, we realized it would have a greater impact, and we would be able to reach more people if we teamed up with him and his organization.”

The Dean’s Scholars’ Give Blood Give Life event will be held Tuesday at the Speedway Plaza in front of the Student Activity Center.

“Regardless, it’s for a good cause, but, after the crash, it’s more important than ever for the blood banks to be restocked,” Tong said.

Maly said he was glad Sigma Pi could help.

“This happened about a mile away from where we go to school, and these people were just walking down the street,” Maly said. “I’m glad that we could do something to help and [that] we’re just going to keep trying to do what we can.”

Thirteen-year-old Ekia Smith will remain in a permanent vegetative state for the rest of her life after she was hit by a drunk driver in August.

Kylie Doniak, a former UT student and soccer star, is also struggling with serious brain injuries after a similar accident. Doniak’s parents filed suit in August against the owners of two downtown bars where they believe the driver that hit their daughter was served alcohol far beyond the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle. Now Smith’s mother is doing the same — filing suit against two downtown bars she says over-served Lauren Cherry, a woman charged with failure to stop and render aid after hitting Smith.

A lawsuit was filed Nov. 20 by Kimberly Jenkins, Smith’s mother, against Cherry, the parent company of Barcelona bar and the parent company of Toulouse bar, both of which are on East Sixth Street west of Interstate Highway 35. The suit alleges the bars served Cherry until she was at more than three times the legal limit to lawfully operate a motor vehicle. It goes on to state that Cherry was not offered transportation by the bars or stopped from driving her motor vehicle.

According to the suit, Cherry went on to strike Smith with her car, who was walking in her neighborhood in North Austin. Smith suffered a traumatic compressed brain injury and permanent life-threatening injuries as a result of the accident.

Carl Barry, the family’s attorney, said Smith nearly died from the accident and it is a miracle she is even alive.

“She was in the hospital for 15 days on life support in Brackenridge,” Barry said. “All the doctors told her family in a day or two, ‘Listen, we are going to pull the plug in the next couple days. Start making funeral arrangements. She is not going to live.’ So they pull the plug, and she miraculously starts to breathe on her own.”

Barry said Smith will now have to live the rest of her life with no cognitive brain function.

Barry said he hopes the suit will provide much-needed financial support for Smith, as her medical bills could total $18 million over her lifetime. He also said he hopes the suit urges local bar owners to be more responsible in the oversight of their employees. He said the suit was not inspired by the Doniak lawsuit.

Barry said the owners of the bars have not yet responded to the suit.

Brendan Puthoff, owner of Barcelona, said an internal investigation into Cherry’s actions at the bar that night show the bar’s staff acted responsibly.

“We didn’t have a part in it,” Puthoff said. “My heart aches for the family.”

Puthoff said he plans to respond to the lawsuit within the legal 20-day limit.

Cherry and the owners of Toulouse were not available for comment.

Suzanne Kaplan, an attorney for the Doniak family, said Doniak is currently under a conservatorship and has a long road ahead of her. Kaplan said the Doniaks’ suit against Vice and its parent company, Ckan Inc., and the now-closed downtown nightclub Fuel and its former parent company Yassine Enterprises, is currently in the discovery phase. She said she has high hopes that justice will be served.

Printed on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 as: Mother sues drunk driver, bars for accident 

The family of former UT soccer player Kylie Doniak is taking a stand against the individuals they feel are responsible for over-serving the drunk driver who hit Doniak back in February, turning her into what the lawsuit calls “a young child trapped in a 22-year-old’s body.”

Kylie’s parents, Lori and Dave Doniak, filed suit on Kylie’s behalf in Travis County Court earlier this month against the downtown nightclub Vice and its parent company, Ckan Inc., and the now-closed downtown nightclub Fuel and its former parent company Yassine Enterprises. Suzanne Kaplan, attorney for the Doniak family, said the family hopes to recover funds to pay for the extensive medical care Kylie continues to need after the crash. The family is not suing drunk driver Nicolas Colunga at this time.

Kaplan said the lawsuit will send a message to other local bars about the dangers of over-serving customers. The suit alleges Colunga, 22, had between 15 and 20 beers the night he hit Kylie, most of which he drank within two hours of the accident at the nightclubs Vice and Fuel.

“They are hoping to get some financial assistance in covering what it is going to cost to care for Kylie,” she said. “Right now, she needs almost around-the-clock care. She is still living at home receiving extensive rehab, and she will still need continuing therapy for an indefinite amount of time.”

Yassine Enterprises became the subject of federal investigation involving illegal drug, weapon and money laundering activity in 2007, which resulted in the arrest of former company owner Mike Yassine and nine other individuals last spring. The Texas Comptroller’s office took possession of six Yassine Enterprises establishments downtown, including Fuel, in April.

The suit asks for unspecified damages and a trial by jury. It says Kylie “will never be the same” as a result of the accident.

According to the suit, Colunga arrived at Fuel Feb. 2 at approximately 11:30 p.m. after having already consumed several beers. He then proceeded to drink five to seven beers at Fuel during the next 30 to 45 minutes, showing “obvious signs of intoxication” while he was there. Next, Colunga continued on to Vice, arriving at approximately 12:15 a.m. There, he consumed four to five drinks before returning to Fuel where he was served several more beers.

The suit alleges that Fuel employees brought a bucket to Colunga’s table to watch him vomit and then allowed him to order more drinks. Colunga then got behind the wheel of his 2008 Chevy Impala and ran a red light while proceeding west on East Eighth Street at San Jacinto Boulevard. The Impala “slammed into Kylie” and hit two of her friends. Colunga then crashed his car and was restrained by a witness until police arrived.

Roger Wade, Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said Colunga is currently in jail and awaiting trial on four separate felonies, including intoxicated assault and failure to stop and render aid, and a Class B Misdemeanor.

Jonathan Insley, co-owner of Old School Bar & Grill on Sixth Street, said he is shocked that Colunga was served so much alcohol and said that would never allow that to happen at his bar.

“We have a zero-tolerance for it, and it’s just crazy that this happened,” he said. “What is it worth, you know, for what? It is just not worth it. You just have to follow the law when it comes to that.”

Carolyn Beck, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokesperson, said an investigation into both Vice and Fuel by the TABC had been suspended for lack of evidence but could be reopened if new evidence is presented in the lawsuit or discovered elsewhere.

Beck said if found in violation of TABC policy, those responsible for over-serving Colunga could lose their TABC permits, could be fined and face criminal charges with a penalty of jail time.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Doniak's family sues nightclubs for over-serving