Family complains about attorney, investigators after wreck case dismissed
Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:03 a.m.
Updated Dec. 4, 2013 at 6:04 a.m.
Family members of a Yorktown couple killed in a July 2011 wreck want investigators to answer their long-awaited questions.
Tami Hartman, 46, and her sister, Tara Fagan, 49, both of Houston, were upset when the case of Logan Curtis, of Victoria, was dismissed in October.
The now 20-year-old college student was accused of causing the deaths of their mother, Judy Sullivan, 65, and stepfather, David Sullivan, 67.
Curtis' vehicle hit the Sullivans' vehicle near the intersection of U.S. Highway 87 and Farm-to-Market Road 447 on July 10, 2011.
Curtis was indicted on two charges of criminally negligent homicide, a state jail felony, but First Assistant District Attorney Eli Garza declined to prosecute the case because of what he described as a lack of evidence.
The court also considered prior accidents and improvements to the area.
Hartman filed a grievance with the state bar about Garza, but it found the information provided did not demonstrate professional misconduct. The grievance against Garza was dismissed. Hartman appealed.
Fagan, meanwhile, asked the Office of the Inspector General to look into Department of Public Safety troopers' alleged mishandling of evidence.
The inquiry was forwarded to the Texas Highway Patrol, said Kimberlie Young, an administrative assistant.
If it is determined a trooper was at fault, he or she could receive anywhere from a written reprimand to termination.
The information about their punishment would be released only if they are commissioned personnel, she said.
Neither Hartman nor Fagan wish to see Curtis in prison for a long time, but they say he must be held accountable.
"Somewhere along the way, this case was no longer about negligence; it became about errors and technicalities and politics, and that's not OK with us," Fagan said.
Curtis' attorney, George Filley, declined to comment but said in a previous interview that the Sullivan family's loss has weighed heavily on Curtis.
In the state bar grievance, Hartman said the improvements to the wreck site were not relevant.
Hartman thinks Garza was not familiar with the wreck because she went to the scene a day later. There, orange paint indicated the crash happened before the intersection, where there are two entrances to a Shell station.
Her parents were stopped in a turning lane at the first entrance when Curtis hit their car from behind.
Curtis' story about why he may have been distracted also changed from messing with the radio to looking at a tailgater, she said.
"He said he didn't apply the brakes. Mr. Curtis told the trooper that he looked up, and they were there, and there was no time," Hartman said.
If criminally negligent homicide could not be proved, Garza should have charged Curtis with a misdemeanor instead of allowing the statute of limitations to expire, Hartman said.
The decision not to prosecute Curtis may also be politically motivated, and Garza may have been distracted campaigning to be a judge, she said.
"Every single day, I can see that car. I can hear the crash. I can see my mother slumped against the steering wheel. There is nothing they could show me that is worse than that," Hartman said about how she was not given the complete case file.
Garza reiterated Tuesday that justice would not have been served if he took the case to a jury and Curtis was exonerated in an appellate court.
If District Attorney Stephen Tyler had forced him to take the case to trial, Garza said he would have resigned.
Garza added that "we (the district attorney's office) are not going to file felonies against individuals just to coerce them to plead to a misdemeanor."
Running for judge did not factor into his decision, he said.
"I've been thinking about running for judge since 2006. It wasn't spur of the moment. I haven't taken any long vacations or anything like that just because I announced I'm running for judge," Garza said. "Even today, I was in court, and I plan to be here doing my job until I have to do another one."
Tyler said providing a complete case file to victims' families often prolongs their agony, and charging Curtis with a misdemeanor would have offended the victims' family, too. The most damning evidence in this case was the roadway's clear line of sight, he said.
"I'm not saying there isn't a moral right or wrong," Tyler said. "I'm just saying there is not a way of proving criminal wrong resulted in two people dying."
A trooper is also recorded talking about a possible blowout, which, again, would undermine the state's case, Tyler said.
Sara Bill, the victim services' coordinator, said the office tracked down the witness who heard the victims' tire blow out.
Although that tire was not collected, photos taken at the scene show it looked flatter. While the case may have appeared to be inactive, that does not mean the office devoted less time to it, she said. Activity picks up as the trial date approaches.
"He (Garza) was open and honest from the very beginning," to the victims' family, Bill said, by explaining his concerns about the case early on.
While Judy Sullivan was killed instantly, David Sullivan was taken to a hospital in San Antonio. He never woke from a coma and died five days later.
Every year, Hartman releases pink balloons into the sky to remember her mother, a teacher who loved to cook. She had silver hair and blue eyes and was married to David Sullivan for 18 years. They were God-fearing people, Hartman said.
"I wanted some acknowledgment that he (Curtis) did this, and he walked away without even a ticket," Hartman said.
Fagan, meanwhile, can't stand to look at pictures of her mom yet but thinks she would be both proud and sad about their efforts.
"This is not a vendetta or revenge or anything else," she said. "This is about doing what's right, and if my sister and I don't see this through to the end, this is going to haunt us for the rest of our lives."