July 12, 2019
A 22-year-old woman who killed a mother and her three-month old son in a drunken driving crash was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced.
Veronica Rivas pleaded guilty to two counts of intoxication manslaughter in exchange for 18 years in prison – just two years shy of the maximum allowed under Texas law.
“Veronica Rivas should spend every day of the next eighteen years thinking about the innocent family she destroyed,” Ogg said. “She robbed a husband of a wife and father of a son all because she never stopped to think about the risk she was taking by drinking twice the legal limit and getting behind the wheel.”
Rivas’s case was the first in which the district attorney’s office-led task force also sought out and prosecuted the bartender and the two men who bought alcohol for Rivas who was 20 at the time of the crash. All three have admitted their guilt in plea agreements.
Investigators said Rivas drank several tequila margaritas at the Crescent City Connection Sports & Oyster Bar, in the Clear Lake area, into the early morning hours of Feb. 28, 2018.
She was driving a sport-utility vehicle with a 17-year-old friend at about 90 mph, when she hit Shayla Joseph’s Toyota Scion around 3:50 a.m. at the Gulf Freeway feeder road near El Dorado.
Rivas’s blood alcohol level measured at .21, which is almost three times the legal limit. Joseph and her son Braylan died at the scene.
Shayla Joseph’s husband, Bryan Joseph, said in the courtroom Friday that he wants to see the law changed, so that a crash that kills two people carries a stiffer sentence and is more of a deterrent.
“There’s a sense of relief that she is incarcerated, and she is serving time,” he said stoically. “Moving forward, my goal is to get the laws changed so that the penalty matches the crime.”
Sean Teare, chief of the District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, agreed that drunken driving fatalities should have a higher range of punishment because they are preventable and they forever harm families and communities.
“I will never forget standing in a road and staring down at the carnage that morning, knowing that some father’s entire life was about to be over when learned that his family had been destroyed,” Teare said.
Joseph’s friend, who served with him in the Army, told the court how the ordeal had decimated Joseph.
He said his friend still lives in the same house where he did with his family. To this day, he is unable to go into the nursery room or even the master bedroom he shared with his wife.
Instead, he sleeps on an air mattress on the guest room floor. He said that room has become Joseph’s “own prison cell.”