HARRIS COUNTY, TX- The driver accused of causing a deadly, fiery crash in northwest Harris County on Wednesday has been charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault, according to Harris County Constable Precinct 4.
Two adults and a baby died in the crash and four people remain hospitalized, officials said Wednesday night.
Officials said a driver in a silver SUV, identified as Gregory Smith, blew past a red light heading south on Antoine Drive at Beltway 8 hitting a black SUV and then a minivan, which burst into flames.
The driver of the black SUV was the only person in that car and remains hospitalized, but is expected to recover from her injuries. The driver in the silver SUV and his passenger are also hospitalized.
“He is responsible for snuffing out the lives of three people yesterday,” said Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman.
There was a family of four in the minivan, Herman said in a press conference Thursday. An 11-year-old girl was ejected from the vehicle on impact and remains hospitalized. The girl’s grandmother, mother and baby brother died inside the burning van, Herman said.
Here are the three people who died:
•Ricardo Escobar, Jr. (only 3 months-old)
Diana’s surviving sister, 11 year-old Valeria, was ejected. She’s now stable in the hospital. pic.twitter.com/vMCZ7ZX9g8
— Erica Simon (@EricaOnABC13) February 6, 2020
“If nothing else, this goes to show how terribly dangerous cars can be and when you have people that refuse to obey traffic signs,” said Sean Teare, chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s vehicular crimes division.
Herman said that in the last couple of years, Smith has been “filed on” 14 times. Seven of those charges have been dismissed.
Smith was arrested a few months ago for driving while intoxicated under the influence of PCP but was out on bond. He was also accused of assaulting a police officer, Herman said. These cases are pending.
“The way that it works is, you’re out on a bond. If you pick up a new law violation, the District Attorney’s Office files a motion to revoke the bond,” said Teare. “If you pick up a new law violation, the District Attorney’s Office files a motion to revoke the bond.”
Not only did the judge not revoke Smith’s bond for assaulting a public servant, but the judge granted a low second bond for the DWI in which he had caused a crash while high on PCP in 2019.
How low was the bond?
According to court records, he was released for the low, low price of $100 for a DWI charge. He was charged with that DWI while on bond for assaulting a jail guard.
According to Fox 4 of Dallas, the Commissioners court appointed criminal court Judge Genesis Draper to her position last February. Court records show she signed off on Smith’s new bond conditions in August, removing another judge’s bond conditions which would have required an ignition interlock device for driving.
“It concerns me—there’s no question,” said Teare.
“I can tell you in my 34 years of doing this business, I have never seen so many suspected criminals on our streets, and that’s just the way it is,” said Herman. “I mean these folks are having cases dismissed. They’re having low bonds and sometimes not even any bonds.”
Of the accident scene, Herman said:
“As a law enforcement officer, this is one of the most horrific accidents I’ve seen in quite some time,” Constable Herman said. “What makes it even more difficult for me to comprehend is that this individual is a career criminal.”
Witnesses said that they tried to put out the minivan fire with fire extinguishers before emergency responders arrived.
Additional witnesses said they pulled the accused driver at fault and his passenger out of their car and described the injured men as “incoherent.”
Smith will be held without bond once he is released from the hospital. Deputies are working with the district attorney’s office to determine if more charges will be filed.
This case only goes to highlight the issue with low or no bond releases.
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If you need some case studies, look no further than New York City, where a judge had some choice words to describe the bail reforms laws in the state recently – and none of them were flattering. Bronx Criminal Court Supervising Judge George Grasso didn’t just refer to the reform as a “charade”, but he also described the reform as flat-out dangerous.
Judge Grasso isn’t just some lawyer turned judge, he’s been around the block for some time and knows a thing or two.
After having served as a police officer for over 30 years with the NYPD, he hung up the blues in exchange for the robe that he’s worn the past 10 years.
This past Thursday, there was no shortage of criticism delivered regarding bail reform in New York by Judge Grasso:
“It is my opinion that without significant changes, the current legislation will not only be a missed opportunity for long-overdue criminal justice reform, but also a significant threat to public safety.”
York College played host to the event where the judge delivered his thoughts on bail reform. One of the issues that Judge Grasso pointed out was the types of crime where people are set free versus ones where bail can be imposed.
Examples like “forcible touching,” which is a low-level misdemeanor, a judge can impose some sort of bail on the defendant. Yet, possessing or even selling drugs, which are felonies in nearly every case submitted, cannot have any bail set against the defendant.
Judge Grasso remarked on how little judges have power over in New York regarding bail today:
“The scope of removal of judicial discretion on bail matters in this ‘reform package’ is breathtaking.”
NYC Judge Warns New Yorkers
New York's Bail Reform Law is a "significant threat to public safety".
— Educate America Initiative 🇺🇸 (@RichJaeger) February 7, 2020
During his speech, he noted that absolving judge’s of their discretion on matters related to bail is “dangerous and unprecedented,” and noted that it was time to end the “charade”.
He thinks it’s necessary for state lawmakers to begin holding public hearings on the status of bail reform, and to get some sort of resolution to Governor Cuomo before the end of the legislative session in June.
After delivering his speech, Judge Grasso had spoken with the New York Post stating that he was initially worried about being smeared for his critique against bail reform. Still, despite those concerns, he stated the following:
“I weighed that against my concern for the very severe and potentially long-lasting implications of the legislation. If I didn’t express myself at this point, given the opportunity to…it would be hard to look at myself in the mirror.”
While Judge Grasso had some pointed words against bail reform in the state, there have been at least two other judges that have also gone against the grain recently.
The first one was Nassau County District Judge David McAndrews, who openly defied the bail reforms laws when reviewing the case of accused two-time bank robber Romell Nellis.
A court transcript of the January 9th hearing in Hempstead showed the judge stated the following to Nellis:
“I don’t want you walking around my neighborhood.”
Sadly, Judge McAndrews’ move was quickly upended, as a higher-level judge reversed his order and released Nellis with an ankle monitor. Of course, Nellis had wound up cutting off the ankle monitor and going on the run.
Then this past Wednesday, Cohoes City Court Judge Thomas Marcelle decided that he was going to set a $100 bail on Jonathan R. Johnston for allegedly driving with a suspended license.
Judge Marcelle noticed that Johnston had this strange pattern of not showing up for scheduled court dates. After seeing that Johnston had two “failures to appear” linked to an arrest from last September, he said enough was enough.
This was a move that came just days after he issuing an order that challenged the reform’s constitutionality.
Cohoes judge issues order challenging state's bail reform law reform https://t.co/4lk2s0SZJ0
Ruling sets up New York's first constitutional showdown over bail
— Dale Driscoll #SurvivorsUnited (@helensmomma) February 3, 2020
Judge Marcelle stated:
“The court’s gotta administer justice. If I don’t have a defendant in front of me, then I can’t administer justice.”
Of course, Assistant Public Defender Angela Kelley is going to fight this judge’s dose of common sense as well. When the lawyer defending Johnston was asked about their thoughts on the judge’s decision, they replied:
“It’s our initial position that the court does not have the authority to raise this issue.”
Maybe Governor Cuomo should start paying attention to these judges, instead of social justice warriors.
In January, the new police commissioner of the New York City Police Department made it clear that he is not a fan of the Cuomo “get out of jail free” criminal justice “reform” policy.
Dermot Shea said that the new bail reform law that was implemented on Jan. 1, has contributed to an increase in crime in the city, and he is calling for state legislators to fix it.
The reform law, which did away with the need for cash bail for a number of crimes, came about just when serious crime had hit an all-time low in the city, police were making fewer arrests, and the jail population had gone down substantially.
“…now as you see this in the first three weeks of the year, we are seeing significant spikes in crime. Either we have forgotten how to police New York city or there is a correlation.”
Well commish, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
“If you let out individuals that commit a lot of crime, that’s precision policing in reverse and we’re seeing the effects in a very quick time, and that is why we’re concerned,” Shea said.
Through Jan. 19 of this year compared with the same period last year, statistics show that robberies are up 31.5%, burglaries are up 15%, grand larceny is up 5.6%, and auto thefts, which had been in a sharp decline recently have spiked up 67%. The total for all serious felonies was up 11% year over year compared to 2019.
Nice job there, Cuomo and state legislature.
Put another way, since percentages do not tell the whole story, a total of 233 more robberies have occurred this year compared to last, 159 more car thefts and 125 more burglaries, in only three weeks.
The new law made a majority of so-called “non-violent” offenses no longer bail eligible, meaning criminals have been allowed to walk free without having to post bond after committing robberies, burglaries and other offenses.
Some people have defended the new law, saying it “just took effect.” To that, we say bull crap, and so does Shea.
“People say it just took effect; you can’t have consequences already. Take a look at CompStat (crime statistics).”
“We’re seeing it immediately at the same time you have [state and local jail] populations dropping significantly,” Shea continued.
“Now don’t tell me there not a correlation to that.”
Shea is fed up and rightfully so. He only became the commissioner in New York last month.
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