HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — The defense attorney for the man charged in the deadly crash that killed three people and injured two others earlier this month says mental health issues are to blame.
Gregory Smith, 30, made his first appearance in front of judge Tuesday morning after the fatal crash that happened on Feb. 5 at Antoine Drive and Beltway 8 in northwest Harris County.
He rolled into the courtroom in a wheelchair with his head down.
Smith is charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter for allegedly getting behind the wheel while high on PCP and crashing into a van killing Piedad Soriano, her daughter Diana Escobar and grandchild, three month old Ricardo Escobar Junior.
His attorney, Bryan Savoy, said Smith’s struggles with mental illness played a role in the crash.
Savoy described the incident as a tragic accident.
“He is sorry that the accident occurred and he asks everyone to pray for him,” Savoy said.
Savoy said Smith went to three separate medical facilities for his mental health issues in the 10 days leading up to the crash. He also claimed the system failed Smith and he resorted to drugs to help him deal with his mental illness.
“What the media hasn’t been reporting and what you don’t know is Mr. Smith has been struggling his entire life with severe mental health issues. Paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar,” said Smith’s attorney. “As most folk who struggle with severe mental health issues, he self-medicates.”
However, Karen Soriano, a relative of the victims, said his excuses won’t bring their family back.
“We don’t believe that. We think it’s an act just for him to have something, a story, for him to say,” Soriano said. “I feel like sorry is not enough. A sorry is not going to bring them back. Nothing will bring them back. I don’t think that’s justified or an excuse. Sorry is; it just means nothing.”
As far as his drug use, she said, “That’s not a drug to medicate yourself with. That’s a drug that makes you violent. That makes you hallucinate.”
Sean Teare with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said the charges are likely to be upgraded to felony murder in the next ten days.
“The underlying felony will be unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Through our investigation we’ve determined that he did not actually have authorization to use that vehicle that day,” Teare said.
Savoy said he plans to fight against that.
“If it their intention to try and upgrade this case to a felony murder I do not believe it is a felony murder and we will vigorously defend against that,” Savoy said.
Smith faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted under the current charges.
If they’re upgraded he could face life in prison.
A judge set Smith’s bond at $800,000.
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