Doctor: Tejano star may not make it

March 25, 2008 4:13:10 AM PDT
Grammy-winning Tejano singer Emilio Navaira's survival was in doubt Monday after the tour bus that police said he was not licensed to drive crashed on a freeway, leaving him with serious head injuries. "There is a chance he may not make it," said Dr. Alex Valadka, director of neurotrauma services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and vice chair of neurosciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

"Everyone needs to understand that right up front. That's how bad it is."

Navaira, 45, known to his fans simply as Emilio, was removed from the bus that wrecked before dawn Sunday and had emergency surgery to remove a blood clot that put pressure on his brain. After the two-hour operation, he became part of a research study where doctors lower his body temperature, using hypothermia to treat the injury.

- SEE PHOTOS FROM ACCIDENT SCENE
- WATCH MIYA SHAY'S REPORT FROM THE SCENE

"As I told his family, we're not even going day by day, we're going hour by hour at this point," Valadka said.

He said laboratory and clinical studies have shown lowering the temperature seems to help prevent brain swelling and minimize harmful biochemical reactions that occur when the brain is severely hurt.

"Brain swelling is the biggest thing we're worried about at this point," the nuerosurgeon said. "I think it is a good sign (that) so far the pressures in his brain have not risen and have been controlled. The longer we can keep doing that the better it is for him."

Valadka said the death rate from such an injury is 30 to 35 percent.

Doctors hoped to begin raising his temperature Tuesday, done gradually over as much as 16 hours so as not to shock his system.

The singer was among six people -- all but one of them band members -- who were aboard the bus and hurt in the crash on Interstate 610 in Bellaire, an enclave in Houston. Navaira was behind the wheel, as he often was, after he and the band had played Saturday night at a Houston club, said Joe Casias, who said he's known Navaira since 1980 and has served as the singer's agent since 1989 when Emilio and brother Raul formed the band.

"He loved driving that bus," Casias said. "He would drive it in and drive it out. It was ordinary for him."

Assistant Bellaire Police Chief Byron Holloway said Tuesday that Navaira wasn't licensed to drive "a vehicle that size."

He said blood was taken from the singer to test for alcohol but the results wouldn't be likely for a couple of weeks.

"This is going to be driver error or something mechanical," Holloway said. "I think the blood analysis might tell the tale."

He said also under consideration was the possibility Navaira fell asleep.

"Right now, the investigator handling the case hasn't been really able to find anyone to say this happened or not happened," he said.

The 26,000-pound white bus, with "Emilio" in scripted black letters on the side, plowed into a barrier of barrels that marks an interchange ramp with another major Houston freeway, U.S. 59, about 5 a.m. Navaira, apparently not wearing a seat belt, was thrown through the windshield.

Of the other six people who were aboard and were hurt, bass player Rick Vega remained hospitalized Monday with undetermined abdominal injuries, Casias said. The others, including Navaira's brother, Raul, who sang in the band, were treated for cuts and or bruises and released from hospitals.

Casias, his voice choking back tears, described Navaira as "like a brother ... down to earth. This guy would give you the shirt off his back. Good people."

Casias said Navaira's wife, children, mother and other relatives were at the hospital where the singer was in the intensive care unit. Navaira, who has been married twice, has five children ranging in age from 2 to 18.

Navaira and the band, Rio, were returning to the San Antonio area, where they live. They were scheduled to head to California for tour dates later this week.

Navaira and Rio have released more than a dozen albums, including "Acuerdate," which won the 2003 Grammy for best Tejano album. Navairo benefited from the explosion of Tejano into the popular music scene brought on by Selena, who was killed in Corpus Christi in 1995. Some fans and critics in Tejano music circles described him as the male counterpart to Selena.

After Selena's death raised awareness of Tejano music, Navaira's first English album debuted at No. 13 on Billboard's country chart and sold more than 250,000 copies. A single from the album released in both English and Spanish hit the top 20 on both charts.

The following year, 1996, Selena posthumously and Navaira each won six Tejano Music Awards. In all, he's been honored with more than two dozen Tejano Music Awards.

In 2000, Navaira was arrested in Harlingen on charges of assault and resisting arrest at a San Antonio motel after a woman who identified herself as his girlfriend said he kicked her and her dog after he had been drinking and threw a key ring at her. Five years earlier, he was arrested after a scuffle with a police officer at a San Antonio club. In both cases, charges were dropped.

A Democrat, Navaira in 1998 nevertheless toured with Texas Gov. George W. Bush during his re-election bid and sang a song called "Juntos Con Bush," or, "Together with Bush."

Emilio said he and Bush met at a Tejano music event and Emilio was impressed by Bush's ideas about family, ultimately leading to the campaign collaboration.

Eyewitness News has learned of two vigils being held for Navaira tonight in Houston. There will be a mass and prayer vigil at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church located at 7539 Avenue K in Houston. That begins at 6:30pm. There will also be a vigil outside Memorial Hermann Hospital at 7pm. That one is being conducted by members of Christ the Good Shepherd Church.

Stay with ABC13 Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the very latest on the condition of Emilio Navaira.

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