Prosecutor: fatal accident ‘as tragic’ as it gets
A South Houston events venue was under investigation Tuesday following intoxicated manslaughter charges filed against a 19-year-old customer, who authorities allege drifted across three lanes of traffic before striking another car, killing a young mother.
Erick Raphael Hernandez of Pearland had several drinks before his F-150 truck struck a black SUV head-on Sunday night containing Taylor Phillips, 23, who died at the scene, said Sean Teare, chief of the Vehicular Crimes Division at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Also in the SUV were Phillips’ 1-year-old son and her 48-year-old mother, who each received minor injuries.
Investigators from the Harris County Vehicular Crimes Task Force, which includes agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, are looking into the places that may have served Hernandez alcohol in the hours before the 10:51 p.m. crash. On Tuesday, the state agency announced its investigation into Frontera Events Venue at 1202 Houston Blvd. in South Houston.
Frontera Events Venue could not be reached for comment.
Hernandez told officers at the scene of the crash, in the 1500 block of College Avenue near Hobby Airport, that he’d had five drinks that night, Teare said, but his actions and receipts on the floor of his car indicated he drank a lot more.
“You have these total and true innocents, who are doing absolutely nothing wrong — literally just driving on our roads — and people like Erick Hernandez drive the wrong way and wipe out beautiful lives,” Teare said. “It’s as tragic as a case can get, in my mind.”
Investigators are using surveillance footage from unnamed bars Hernandez visited that night to determine exactly how much he had to consume.
While Phillips’ family members were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, depending on the extent of those injuries, the District Attorney’s Office may brings more charges against Hernandez, Teare said.
He may also be charged for possessing a fake ID that investigators found in his car. Teare said his division hopes to find and prosecute whoever made it.
“As (fake IDs) go, it’s a pretty good one,” he said. “Somebody’s out there making them. I don’t think Mr. Hernandez has the wherewithal to do this himself.”
Since Frontera Events Venue started serving liquor in October 2017, it has received two citations from the TABC, said spokesperson Chris Porter. In February, Frontera was cited for serving alcohol to a minor, and in May, it was fined $900 for serving alcohol after-hours, Porter said.
Five additional complaints have been made against Frontera Events Venue, but those didn’t result in citations.
Businesses that serve liquor can shield themselves from liability under Texas’ Safe Harbor Act if they require all employees to undergo TABC training. So in cases where a bartender serves alcohol to an intoxicated person or a minor, only the server would be charged, not the business, Porter said.
But mitigating circumstances — such as death — can allow TABC and local authorities to prosecute the business anyway, Porter said. If the vehicular crimes task force finds any connection between Frontera and the crash that killed Phillips, the venue will probably be charged, Teare said.
Teare urged consumers to plan their way to get home, through Uber, Lyft, another taxi service, or a designated driver, before starting to drink.
“To the sellers and servers, the owners of these establishments, just be responsible,“ he said. “Check IDs. If you see that someone’s obviously intoxicated, stop selling them alcohol. Do those things, and everything is going to be fine. But that small percentage of those sellers, servers and owners out there that encourage and actually do violate the law and over-serve and sell to minors, those are the ones we’re going to come after.”
Hernandez is scheduled to be in the 209th state District Court on Wednesday morning for an arraignment. He posted his $30,000 bail Tuesday morning.