It's how the system's supposed to work?

June 10, 2009 5:00:55 PM PDT
A man accused of driving drunk and killing a good Samaritan while on DWI bond was almost allowed out of jail. How did the details of his prior charges slip through the cracks? We first told you Tuesday that the driver was out on bond for another DWI charge when he went before a judge and almost got out again. But did you know it's the way the system is supposed to work?

Until we told a judge that accused drunk driving killer Victor Tugwell was already out on bond, he says he didn't know. But on Wednesday, we uncovered proof that it may not have mattered. The system doesn't always consider pending charges when an accused criminal is looking to get back on our streets.

Tugwell was allegedly drunk Sunday morning when he killed a man and injured another on the Southwest Freeway.

A judge and a prosecutor saw him in probable cause court early Tuesday to set his bond at $60,000. At that first hearing, the fact that he was already on bond for another drunk driving incident didn't matter.

Then Tuesday, a second judge and a second prosecutor saw him on the same case. And again, his pending DWI case didn't matter.

If Tugwell could come up with just $6,000, the accused drunk driving killer could've been sprung from jail. But when Channel 13 called and asked about it, Judge Randy Roll said he didn't know about the pending charge, and decided to keep Mr. Tugwell in jail.

"My prosecutor could've said, 'Oh by the way judge, do you know he's on bond'," said Assistant Harris County District Attorney Brent Mayr. "We presumed the judge was already aware of that because it's on his pretrial services report."

It's a report the judge apparently gets on every defendant. We don't know if he got Mr. Tugwell's. But even if he did, it may not have mattered.

"Everything was done by the book, according to the the schedule," said Mayr.

And here's why.

Bail is set in Harris County according to a schedule that all judges agree to. And according to that schedule, amounts go up depending on how serious the crime is, if the defendant is here illegally or if they have prior convictions. But there's nothing in the rules to consider misdemeanor charges like a first time DWI.

"Having information at hand is really important," said Hope Rangel with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

It doesn't really make sense to Rangel, who suggests the system may not work for victims as well as it works for accused drunk drivers.

"They should be treated as the criminals they are," she said.

"Stay in jail until their trial?" we asked.

"If that's what it takes."

Tugwell is still in jail with no bail available. The district attorney tells us they are confident that Tugwell would not have been able to pay even the $60,000 he was initially offered Tuesday.

Nationwide, about eight percent of drunk drivers involved in a deadly crash have a prior DWI conviction. Those convictions are within the three years before the crash. In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports Texas had almost 1,300 deadly alcohol-related crashes.

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