HOUSTON -- Houston Police erroneously released a suspected drunk driver accused of killing an elderly Houston man last month, the Harris County District Attorney’s office confirmed to the I-Team.
The accident happened April 4 in the 6400 block of Bingle Road in Northwest Houston. Crash reports and court records show Florian Quintanilla-Riva, 26, was driving the wrong way, southbound in the northbound lanes, when his Toyota Scion struck a Chevrolet Equinox SUV driven by Melinda James.
“(They were) minding their own business, having a nice day like any of us would, and then all of a sudden life changes,” said Richard Nguyen, family attorney for the James family.
The impact ripped off the rear wheel of the SUV. 79-year-old Steven James was riding in the backseat and died from his injuries two days after the crash.
"They're obviously devastated and saddened by the loss of Steven James, father, devoted husband, and best friend, but at the same time they feel betrayed by the Houston Police Department,” said Nguyen.
Betrayed because HPD had Quintanilla-Riva in custody, but let him go. Court records show his blood alcohol level was .47, six times the legal limit. But prosecutors confirmed that after spending a night in custody at the hospital, and then another at the city jail, police inexplicably released him.
"It seems like there was no accountability whatsoever," Nguyen said.
Houston Police declined to answer the I-Teams questions and instead provided a written statement that read in part: “HPD is actively searching for suspect Florian Quintanilla-Riva …This continues to be an on-going investigation.”
But just how active that search really was is under question. The suspect's mother, Rosa Riva, said her son came straight home after his release from jail, and stayed not just for a few hours or even a few days.
I-Team: "Your son was here for a week?”
I-Team: “And police didn't come?”
I-Team: “And when they came he had already left?
Riva said her son possibly left to their native El Salvador.
It left the victim’s family in limbo.
"I mean where's the justice for Steven James and the family he left behind, that's all they want, justice,” Nguyen said.
Quintanilla Riva faces intoxication manslaughter charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison--If or when he is ever caught.