Driver convicted in deaths of 8 people struck by SUV outside migrant shelter sentenced to 60 years

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas jury on Friday found a driver guilty of intoxication manslaughter over the deaths of eight people who were struck by an SUV that plowed into a crowded bus stop outside a migrant shelter on the U.S.-Mexico border.

George Alvarez, 35, was found guilty of eight counts of intoxication manslaughter at the end of a weeklong trial. He was also convicted on 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced by a judge to serve 60 years in prison.

“You’re never truly satisfied with whatever outcome you get, because eight people are still deceased and 10 got their lives changed forever. But I’m satisfied with the way things turned out,” Cameron County District Attorney Luis Sáenz said.

The jury handed down the punishment more than a year after authorities say Alvarez lost control of the vehicle after running a red light. The deadly scene happened in Brownsville, which has long been an epicenter for migration.

Brownsville Police Chief Felix Sauceda said at the time of the crash that the SUV ran a red light, lost control, flipped on its side and hit 18 people. Six people died at the scene and 12 people were critically injured. The victims were all male, and several of them were from Venezuela.

Following the verdict, Alvarez apologized to the families of the victims. “From the bottom of my heart, I’m really sorry,” he said.

A shelter operator said victims struck by the vehicle had been waiting for the bus to return to downtown Brownsville after spending the night at the overnight shelter. Authorities said Alvarez tried to flee but was held down by several people at the scene.

Alvarez admitted to having an addiction to cocaine since the age of 11 after he said his parents left him to be raised with a grandparent. Art Teniente, the prosecutor for the Cameron County District Attorney’s office, said he believed the accident was unintentional but that Alvarez’s drug addiction played a role in the fatal crash.

Defense attorneys argued Alvarez’s test results only found a trace of the drug but that he wasn't intoxicated on the day his vehicle struck the crowd at the bus stop. He asked the jury to consider Alvarez’s six children and consider a sentence of either probation or the minimum two-year sentence for each count of intoxication manslaughter.

Ashley Flores, 33, was one of the jurors and said they didn't reach the decision easily or quickly.

“We really did try to give him the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately we did believe he was intoxicated at the time based on the evidence,” Flores said.

Maria Rodriguez Sangroni lost her 18-year-old son, Cristian Jesus, in the accident. She said all she received from police after the accident was her son’s rosary beads and felt the 60-year sentence was fair and that justice was served.

Sangroni did not accept Alvarez's apology to the families.

“He’ll have to pay a divine justice. From that, no one is safe, no one. This is a light punishment for what awaits him with God. He’ll have to be accountable to God,” Sangroni said.