Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rest in peace

What a wonderful tribute and a reminder to the community about the dangers of driving while intoxicated.

Rest in peace, Anna Marie, rest in peace.

Sign erected in honor of 2003 DWI victim

Published August 29, 2009

On Dec. 6, 2003, Anna Marie Hernandez was hit in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. She was killed.

Anthony Ruiz of Brownsville had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.

In 2005, Ruiz pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for intoxicated manslaughter and intoxicated assault.

But the Caring Communities Coalition didn’t think that was enough. On Friday, a sign saying, “Please don’t drink and drive. In memory of Anna Marie Hernandez, December 3, 2003,” went up in her honor at the scene of the accident, Interstate 35 near Koehlenberg Road.

That night, Ruiz was traveling the wrong way in a 2000 Eclipse near the exit. Police arrived on the scene at 3 a.m. to find two smashed vehicles surrounded in debris and more than 100 feet apart. A passenger in Anna’s car, Jesse Morales, was seriously injured.

Anna Marie was a valedictorian at South San Antonio High School and had just begun college at the University of Texas — Austin. She was on her way to a bright future, and was heading home that night to surprise her parents.

On Friday, More than 20 relatives came to the ceremony unveiling the sign. It was erected in a joint effort between Caring Communities Coalition and Operation Intervention, a drunk driving awareness program.

Anna Marie’s fate weighed heavily on the hearts of the New Braunfels Police Department, Comal County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Public Safety officers.

Reverend Mark Hinchcliff, chairman of the Caring Communities Coalition, said this was the right story to memorialize.

“The coalition focuses on drug and alcohol related issues, and we were looking for certain issues we could support. We went to the NBPD to identify one,” he said.

For New Braunfels Lt. John McDonald, who was at the scene the night of Anna Marie’s death and notified her family, this event stood out more than any.

“The Caring Communities Coalition came up with the idea. We had first-hand knowledge of this event and worked with them,” he said

Lt. McDonald also informed Gilbert G. Hernandez Jr., Anna Marie’s father, about the memorialization effort.

“I touched base with John McDonald ... and it came up,” he said. “I said that’s awesome, let’s do something.”