Parents of DWI victim fight for harsher charges

September 2, 2010 5:22:08 PM PDT
A woman was seriously hurt when she was hit by a drunk driver, and now her family says the accident is a warning to others about the busy and growing Washington Avenue area of Houston. The woman was hit outside a bar on Washington near Thompson Street, an area with no crosswalks.

Mareshah Shepherd is about to turn 24. In an instant, her life has taken a detour from a young woman with plans to a young woman who's been in and out of intensive care for the past five weeks.

About 2am on July 24, Shepherd was about to walk across Washington Avenue from one bar to another when she was hit by an SUV. The impact was so great that it threw her into the air and onto her head. Her skull had several fractures which led to bleeding and a series of strokes.

"You've got a daughter that was a hundred per cent and now she's twelve years old again," said Mareshah's father, Tom Shepherd.

The driver was arrested. James Matarazzo, 27, was charged with misdemeanor DWI. Prosecutors place his blood alcohol level at around two and a half times the legal limit.

Matarazzo's attorney though argues it was an unavoidable accident, not because of alcohol, but because Shepherd walked into traffic. The real issue, the attorney says, is the late night mix of cars and bar patrons packed into a few blocks.

"There aren't too many protected crosswalks in the area. That place is basically an accident waiting to happen," said Grant Scheiner, attorney for Matarazzo.

Shepherd's parents say that doesn't excuse drunk driving. They hurt for their daughter, and yet there is common ground - they too want more traffic control and lighted crosswalks on Washington.

"Something to give the patrons a safe entry and exit to these businesses. Something. Anything," said Mareshah's mother, Betty Bondurant.

Because it was Matarazzo's first charge of DWI, it's a misdemeanor. Sherpherd's parents want it upgraded. Prosecutors are still investigating.

"If anyone knows any information about what happened to Mareshah on this date in July, if they could contact us at the Harris County District Attorney's Office," said Rachel Ann Palmer of the DA's Office.

The city of Houston meets with the bar owners about traffic control and discussions are ongoing.

As for Mareshah, she will celebrate her 24th birthday on Saturday in the hospital with her parents by her side, willing her to recover.


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