If you’re having a Rockets watch party or any other gathering this weekend and you plan to serve alcohol you’ll want to hear this story. A new initiative in Harris County has cops coming after, not only the drunk driver who causes a crash, but also the person who supplied the alcohol.
A restaurant server has already been arrested under this new crackdown. 25-year-old Natalia Ortiz is now charged with selling alcohol to an intoxicated individual. She was working at El Muelle Seafood Restaurant when investigators say she served 11 drinks to a customer who left, caused a crash and killed a girl who was heading home from prom.
Although the crash that killed 18-year-old Jocelyn Valero was two years ago, investigators have just charged Ortiz. She isn't the drunk driver who was behind the wheel of the car that slammed into Valero and her date on prom. Ortiz is the waitress who served Edin Palacious the alcohol.
"At some point in the 11 or 12 drinks that she served him over a 2-hour period, he became obviously intoxicated and she continued to serve him,” says Sean Teare, the head of the Harris County DA’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, and that, according to Teare, is a crime.
From now on, after every drunk driving crash, a new DA's office task force will go after not only the driver, but the person who gave them the alcohol.
"We’re going backwards from these tragic fatality crashes and seeing where it starts," Teare says.
Teare says the task force is currently looking at previous drunk driving cases, looking for who supplied the alcohol to the person who in turn got behind the wheel and killed someone.
"Serving alcohol comes with a great responsibility," Teare says. "It is a true responsibility that everyone needs to be aware of.” Teare says that’s why every server and bartender in Texas receives training regarding alcohol and when a customer should be cut off, but remember anyone having a house party or gathering and serving alcohol is also at risk of being charged. So you may want to take note of the signs that someone has had too much to drink.
“Typically, what you see is a gross loss of balance.They lose a lot of their mental faculties. Their words become slurred. They don’t make quite as much sense," Teare says.
Palacious was recently sentenced to 32 years in prison. Investigators say after Ortiz served him about a dozen drinks he then drove away from the restaurant, and four blocks away was stopped in the middle of the road when a Houston police officer came along and tried to pull him over. Detectives say Palacious sped away. “And didn’t get very far, ran a red light and just snatched Jocelyn Valero’s life away,” Teare explains.
He says even if customers at a bar or restaurant are seated at a table together, a server still has the responsibility to know how much alcohol each person is consuming. "If a table comes in and orders 12 drinks, that server needs to look and make sure that drink is in front of each person and not one person drinking all 12,” Teare says.
Every year for the last several years, Harris county has lead the nation in alcohol related fatalities. Teare says he hopes this new crackdown will change that. "I truly do hope this gives everyone in the industry and everyone who serves alcohol to anyone pause and I hope we can save some lives.”
Ortiz faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine if found guilty of the Class A Misdemeanor she’s charged with.