Wrong-way driver charged with intoxication manslaughter in crash that killed Heights HS track coach

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A Houston man was charged Monday with intoxication manslaughter, accused of drunkenly causing a freeway collision that killed a beloved Heights High School track coach and put his wife in a coma.

The crash early Sunday morning killed Adrian Byrd, 34, and left his wife, 35-year-old Veronnia Byrd, hospitalized, said Sean Teare, the vehicular crimes chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

ORIGINAL STORY: High school coach killed in head-on collision on Beltway

“When an accident occurs with a wrong-way driver on a freeway, they’re horrific,” Teare said at a press conference to raise awareness about drunken driving. “Anything that can help stop these crashes or minimize them, we’re all in favor of it.”

The suspect, 51-year-old Gerardo Gonzalez Luna, remains in the hospital after the crash, which occurred at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday on the west Sam Houston Tollway.

Luna registered a blood alcohol level of .284, more than three times the legal limit of .08, Teare said. If convicted of intoxication manslaughter, he faces a possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

As news of the crash spread, sympathy for the Byrd family poured in from social media.

The Houston ISD said via Twitter, “Our hearts go out to the Heights High School community, which is mourning the loss of track coach Adrian Byrd today. #WeAreHISD.”

The couple was reportedly coming home from a wedding. Prosecutors did not know Luna’s point of origin or destination.

Teare said Luna, who was convicted of DWI in 2009, was driving a Ford F-150 with several open containers of Bud Light as he headed north on the southbound lane without his headlights.

Precinct 5 Constable’s Assistant Chief Terry Albritton said the pickup truck struck a Mercedes sedan carrying the Byrds. Albritton said the Mercedes was then hit by another car.

He said a deputy was patrolling nearby and drove toward a cloud of smoke caused by the crash.

“(The deputy) was able to pull the defendant from his burning vehicle and save him,” Albritton said. “Mr. Byrd was pinned in and could not be removed. Mrs. Byrd, they were able to get her out and lay her on the ground. It was a very chaotic scene.”

He said several people stopped and helped the deputy get the victims.

“We appreciated their help very much,” he said.

He declined to say how many wrong-way drivers his agency sees every year, although there was a second one late Sunday night that did not end in tragedy. But he noted that the Harris County toll road system saw 1,476 DWI arrests last year. There were three fatal crashes involving alcohol in 2016, he said, and the Byrds’ wreck was the third this year.

“We are out there every day trying to find these DWI suspects and get them off the road.”

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