SUV slams into building; 8 hurt (video)
When Veronica Gomez received the call Wednesday that her boyfriend was injured by a car ramming into the building where he works, she was frantic.
"The secretary at the office called me," Gomez said. "She couldn't go into any detail, so I tried both hospitals before I found him. And my car broke down on the way here. ... I was crying at first because I just didn't know anything. I thought he was cut up real bad, or that he might have died."
Her boyfriend, John Garcia, and seven others were injured at 4:30 p.m Wednesday when a man driving a Toyota 4Runner crashed into the James Wayne Properties building in the 2600 block of North Laurent Street.
About 20 people were inside the business when the crash occurred.
Some of the victims were injured because of the impact, and others were injured by the debris, said Sgt. Herschel Buck, lead investigative officer with the Victoria Police Department.
The injured were taken to Citizens Medical Center and DeTar Hospital Navarro, said Tracy Fox, the Victoria Fire Department assistant fire chief.
Gomez said she was lucky because she got to see her boyfriend a few minutes after arriving.
"He was swollen, he has sore limbs and a sore leg," she said. "He doesn't remember the crash."
Other families waited hours to see their loved ones.
The family of Gino Mireles, who was in the building when it was hit, waited for 90 minutes and still had not seen him.
His daughter, Stephanie Mireles, said a nurse told them he was being X-rayed for broken bones.
"Hopefully, he is OK," his daughter said. "The brick fell on top of him, and he had to crawl out of the building. He is in pain."
He was still being treated at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Garcia was in stable condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Eyewitnesses said the impact sounded like a massive explosion.
Thomas Leos, an employee who was outside the building, gave a vivid description to the scene.
"I saw them covered in blood," he said. "There were bodies lying on the ground."
John McQueen, who was outside with Leos, tried to rush inside to check on his employees.
"Dust was everywhere. I couldn't see," he said.
McQueen also added that his colleagues scrambled to get outside.
When four patients arrived at Citizens emergency room, all were covered in white dust, nurse manager Jeff Payne said.
Cindy Smith's heart was racing when she arrived at the hospital. Her brother, Gregory Rueff, repeatedly asked someone to call his sister and ask her to pick up his daughter, Natasha.
Smith rushed to pick up her niece, calling friends to ask for their help.
"As soon as I found out, I called my prayer people at church, and they went to work," Smith said.
They arrived at Citizens and learned Rueff had two broken ribs and a broken scapula (shoulder blade), Smith said.
"He looked like the building fell on top of him," she said, shaking her head.
Rueff, 53, was listed in guarded condition in the intensive care unit, Payne said.
Another victim, Robert Casarez, 52, was undergoing surgery and also was listed in guarded condition. Payne said Casarez was expected to be moved to intensive care after the surgery.
The other two patients at Citizens, Linda Gordon, 45, and Marie Adames, 52, were treated Wednesday evening and released, Payne said.
Jesse Garcia, the driver of the SUV, was listed in stable condition Wednesday night at DeTar Hospital Navarro, a hospital spokeswoman said.
One other person from the crash was taken to DeTar, but that patient's condition and identity were not available, a hospital spokesman said.
The driver's niece, Casmira McElveen, said she recognized the silver SUV as her uncle's.
McElveen, 33, of Victoria, said Garcia was diabetic and possibly had a seizure. She also added that he spent a lot of time by himself.
Victoria City Fire Marshal Tom Legler said the driver was alone in the vehicle.
Fox said when the department receives a call of this nature, he is concerned about the occupants inside the building and whether the problem will lead to further issues, such as fire and gas leaks.
The SUV was towed from the scene with the airbags deployed, the back windows and front windshield were shattered.
Some employees, including McQueen, removed the bricks from the top of the truck and tried to clean up the debris.
City building official Rick Madrid inspected the premises, Fox said.
Because of the severity of the wreck, Buck said, could continue to Friday. He said the building was not listed as condemned.
Advocate reporters Dianna Wray and Caty Hirst contributed to this story.