Legal and political challenges await state Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, after she was arrested Thursday morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Gonzalez, 34, did not return phone calls after she bonded out of the Travis County Jail on Thursday afternoon.
An arrest affidavit said that a Breathalyzer test showed that Gonzalez had a blood alcohol content of .164, which is twice the legal limit. The affidavit said she told officers that she had one beer and a mixed drink-- one at midnight and the other at 1 a.m.
The affidavit also said that the officer who interviewed her said he noticed that she had glassy and bloodshot eyes and that the smell of alcohol became stronger the more she spoke. The officer also said her speech was slurred, the affidavit said.
"Never once did Ms. Gonzalez ask how the other people involved in the crash were doing, but she cried about how she had worked so hard to get where she was," an officer wrote in the arrest affidavit.
Gonzalez allegedly crashed her BMW into a Fiat about 2 a.m. at the intersection of Barton Springs and Congress in Austin. The Fiat then hit a bicyclist, a woman in her 30s, according to information from police and emergency medical services officials.
A passenger in the Fiat, the woman cyclist and Gonzalez were taken to hospitals, but none had serious injuries, according to officials.
Gonzalez, who is a lawyer, released a statement Thursday evening through
her campaign adviser Rick Armendariz of Forma Group.
"Obviously recent events are concerning for me," Gonzalez said in the statement. "However, I would like to say first that my thoughts and prayers go out to the other persons involved. I hope you understand, I won't be commenting further until the legal matters have been resolved.
"I appreciate the support I have received from my family, my colleagues and my friends," Gonzalez said. "I am committed to moving forward and continuing the important work of this legislative session."
It is unclear whether the arrest will affect Gonzalez's political career.
Gonzalez defeated longtime state lawmaker Norma Chavez during a contentious race for the state House in 2010. She eased into her second term this year after running unopposed during an election for House District 76, which covers El Paso's Lower Valley as well as parts of the city's East and Central neighborhoods. During her first session, Gonzalez was named freshman of the year by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Legislative Study Group. Last week, the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers named her Public Elected Official of the Year.
Gonzalez is vice chairwoman of the House Human Services committee. She is also on the Ways and Means committee, which handles proposals to raise state revenue and levy state taxes or fees, and is a member of the General Investigating and Ethics committee.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said Gonzalez is not the first lawmaker to face charges of driving while intoxicated or to run into legal problems. He said whether those circumstances sink a politician's career depends on how the person handles the situation.
"As hard as a lot of those races have been, it's hard for me to imagine that there is not going to be somebody that's going to want to take political advantage of the difficulty," Henson said. "I would imagine it's going to be a difficult road. People have been able to survive these kinds of things depending on how they handle it, but that's a hard district."
History has shown that a drunken-driving charge is not necessarily the end of public office at the Texas Capitol.
State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos in 2001 pleaded no contest to a charge of DWI after he refused to take a breath test administered by police, who said his vehicle was weaving in and out of a lane in Downtown Austin. Barrientos, who was given probation, paid a fine and performed community service, weathered campaign attacks the next year that cited the incident but then he still won re-election.
Gonzalez's arrest came hours after she presented a key bill before the House Higher Education Committee that would make Texas Tech's Health Sciences Center at El Paso a stand-alone university.
Her office staff on Thursday afternoon fielded phone calls from lawmakers, the news media and others who were inquiring about the accident and her arrest.
Staff politely deferred questions about the lawmaker to her chief of staff, Ariane Marion, who was not in the office at the time.
Marion could not be reached for comment. A paralegal for Gonzalez's lawyer, Jana Ortega, declined to comment.
Gonzalez's bond was set at $5,000. She was released on what is known as a personal recognizance bond, which means she paid a bond fee and was released on her word that she will follow the conditions set by the court. If Gonzalez violates the conditions of the bond, she owes the court $5,000.
The case will be handled by the Travis County Attorney's Office. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said he was aware of the incident but his office was limited in what it could say.
Randy Leavitt, an Austin lawyer and former first assistant to Escamilla, said first-time DWI offenders can generally face a maximum punishment of up to six months in jail, up to a year's suspension of their driver's license and a fine of up to $2,000.
But Leavitt said, depending on the situation, a case can also get dismissed, be reduced to a lower charge or be tried in front of a jury. He said Gonzalez's position should not affect the County Attorney's Office while it studies the merits of the case.
"When I was there, our policy was that we tried our best to be blinded by who the person was as opposed to what the facts of the case are," Leavitt said.
Austin police said a blood sample was taken from Gonzalez and results are pending. Police said blood sample results did not have a set time frame and would take "a while."
Leavitt said blood test results are running about seven to eight months behind schedule because of a backlog at the Austin Police Department's Crime lab.
Reaction to arrest
Glenn "Butch" Maya, chairman of the El Paso County Democratic Party, said Gonzalez is responsible to her constituents for any actions she took, but he sent emails to members of the party asking them not to rush to judgment.
"We urge people to refrain from any type of judgment of representative Gonzalez and allow her the opportunity to express her constitutional rights before a judicial system," he said. "We will continue to pray for representative Gonzalez and any other individuals involved in the incident."
Maya said he called Gonzalez three times but has not heard back. He said that he heard and read comments from some people questioning whether Gonzalez should resign from her position.
"That is her call," Maya said. "Personally, I cannot call her and say, 'I need your resignation.' She's an elected official and there are rules and regulations on what they have to follow, but if this is a case where she is found guilty, she has to be responsible to her constituents for that."
State Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, said she learned of the arrest through the newspaper. Marquez said she had not spoken with Gonzalez.
"It's just an unfortunate incident, and I really do feel bad for my friend and colleague," Marquez said. "I feel for all the people that were involved."
State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said he did not know the details of the arrest and would wait to hear more before commenting. State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, declined to comment.
State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, said she did not know the details of the situation.
Mary Gonzalez, who is not related to Naomi Gonzalez, said their shared last names created confusion in the Capitol about who had been arrested.
"I just found out but my thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family," Mary Gonzalez said.
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