AP NEWS

Trial begins for driver in roadway fatality

March 21, 2017

The trial of a driver accused of striking and killing a pedestrian with her car began Monday in the courtroom of Judge J. Manuel Banales at the Cameron County Courthouse in Brownsville.

In the opening statement for the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Nate Navey described to the jury how a Winter Texan couple on their way to the vet spotted the body of Mary Elizabeth Guzman lying in a ditch. The state contends Guzman was struck on the evening of Feb. 28, 2015, by a car driven by Marisa Govea Hernandez, but her body was not discovered until three days later.

The prosecution stated that evidence will show Hernandez did not have her headlights on at the time of impact. The state also contends that Hernandez was talking on her phone at the time she struck the victim and continued to talk for three additional minutes after the incident.

Prosecutors claim that instead of calling the police, Hernandez called her son, Marin Hernandez, a Cameron County Sheriff’s deputy, an hour after the accident and told him what had transpired, saying she had closed her eyes at the time of impact and thought she had struck an animal. Her son then called his sergeant at the Sheriff’s Department to tell him his mother had been in an accident, and the department then contacted the Brownsville Police Department.

Marin Hernandez came to his mother’s house, observed the damage to her car, and called the Brownsville Police Department on his own to report a “1050” – a minor accident with an animal. The responding officer who inspected Hernandez’s vehicle noted strands of hair and small pieces of flesh on the cracked passenger side windshield.

Defense attorney Erin Gamez described the situation as a tragedy in her opening statement, saying that the victim, Guzman, was wearing all black clothing and walking on a rainy night on a dark road with no sidewalk when her client Marisa Govea Hernandez struck her with her car. She stated that her client went back and frantically searched the area before calling both her sons, the sheriff’s deputy and another son who is an EMT with the Brownsville Fire Department, who then say they all went back and searched the area. The defense contends there was no evidence to show that a person had been hit.

The critical issue in the evidence of the case revolves around a surveillance recording obtained by the police from Suntrack Supply Services, which recorded the entire incident.

The detective assigned to the case, 27-year veteran Tom Clipper, now retired, did not preserve the entire recording up until the body was discovered, instead recording his own copy from the digital video recorder obtained from Suntrack only up to the point where Guzman was struck. He states in his report that Hernandez failed to stop and render aid, but he did not preserve the entire recording, instead returning the DVR to Suntrack rather than keeping it as evidence.

No other person besides Clipper can verify what was on the surveillance recording, as the recording of the incident was recorded over after the digital video recorder was returned to the owner.

The trial continues today.

pcody@brownsvilleherald.com