Houston police yesterday arrested Natalia Ortiz at El Muelle Seafood restaurant where she works as a bartender. Almost exactly two years ago, one of Ortiz’s customers left the restaurant under the influence of alcohol and crashed into another vehicle killing one of the occupants.
You might be asking why Ortiz is being arrested and charged for something her customer did. Well, it was later determined that Ortiz served the patron, Edin Palacios, a whopping eleven beers that night before he got behind the wheel.
After Palacios left the restaurant, a Houston police officer attempted to pull him over. Palacios attempted to flee from the officer, ran a red light, and collided with a Dodge Charger. 18-year-old Jocelynn Valero, an occupant of the Dodge Charger was killed on the scene. The other occupant survived, but suffered a broken pelvis, a lacerated liver, and other significant injuries. Valero and the other occupant, her date, we’re driving home from their high school prom.
Prosecutors later determined that Palacios’s blood alcohol content was 0.18 percent.
According to Ortiz’s charging documents, a review of the restaurant’s surveillance video showed Palacios was “obviously intoxicated,” and who “was observed having difficulty in balance and coordination, dropping items from his hand…[and] nearly stumbles while walking.”
The documents went on to say, “This behavior was exhibited in front of [Ortiz] as she knowingly and intentionally continued to serve and deliver beer to the intoxicated subject.”
In 2016, Houston saw 89 fatal DUI crashes, the most in the state of Texas according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Valero’s death was one of 3,776 DUI-related fatalities in the state of Texas as a whole that year.
As a result of these unfortunate statistics, local prosecutors stepped up efforts to enforce laws prohibiting the over-serving of alcohol to obviously intoxicated bar and restaurant patrons.
“We’re not going after servers or bars that are conducting business legally, we’re going after people whose actions are criminal and negligent,” said Sean Teare, the prosecutor in charge of the Harris County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Division. “When those actions result in the tragedies every day that we deal with on these roads, we’re going to come after them.”
Palacios was charged and convicted of felony murder. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison. Ortiz, on the other hand, has been charged with serving a drunk, a misdemeanor. We’ll be keeping our eyes on how her case plays out.
California has a law similar that which allowed the prosecutors in Ortiz’s case to charge her for over-serving Palacios.
According to California Business and Professions Code section 25602(a), “Every person who sells, furnishes, gives, or causes to be sold, furnished, or given away, any alcoholic beverage to any habitual or common drunkard or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.”