Did hit-and-run suspect get preferred treatment?

HOUSTON While police say the accident was not the driver's fault, questions remain about why the driver left the scene, and waited so long to come forward. She surrendered herself Monday, almost a week after that little girl died. We've since learned her husband is a Houston police officer. So the question now is whether she received preferential treatment in those six days leading up to her arrest.

Vilma Buchala is charged with failing to stop and render aid. Authorities say she fled after striking seven-year-old Destiny Garcia with her car on March 22 at Bear Creek Park. The girl died from her injuries the following day. Court documents written by the investigating police officer show the girl's mother told police she actually spoke to Buchala that night.

The document read, "Ms. Ferrel told me that the driver stopped a short distance away, got out of the car and insisted that she had not hit the ... (girl) ... with her car."

Buchala's attorney Earl Musick says she was in shock.

He said, "There could be an accumulation of stress where an individual just doesn't know what to do next. They feel helpless."

Musick says his client described a tense scene at the park, with the seven-year-old's family highly emotional. He says Buchala fled from the park because someone threatened to kill her.

Musick said, "It's my belief that if you're at the scene of an accident where you're involved and you feel threatened, you have the right to leave that scene."

Musick admits Buchala should have called police immediately upon getting somewhere where she felt safe. But she didn't. He says she didn't call him till the next day, March 23. He says he quickly then called police to hand over Buchala's vehicle for investigation and negotiate her surrender. But Buchala wasn't charged and didn't surrender until almost a week after the girl's death. Did Buchala get preferential treatment?

Captain Bill Stanley with the Houston Police Department said, "Everybody in the unit was solidly behind the victim's family. We wanted to find out who was responsible and hold them accountable."

Houston police say it took them the week following the hit-and-run to put together enough of a case to charge Buchala, processing her vehicle, talking to witnesses and conducting photo lineups.

Veteran HPD Officer Michael Buchala has declined our repeated requests for an interview. An attorney with the Houston Police Patrolmen's Union says there has been no implication that Officer Buchala has done anything wrong. In fact, HPD says he notified them in accordance with department policies and procedures.

Suspect Vilma Buchala is also a teacher at Saint Jerome School. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston issued a statement that reads in part:

    "While we have limited information on the events that might have occurred the evening of the accident, we understand a Catholic school employee may have been involved. The employee is cooperating with the civil authorities assigned to the case.

    Jenny Faber, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

The archdiocese also said it was shocked and saddened by the death. Buchala is currently on leave from the school.

Buchala is set to appear in court tomorrow morning. If convicted she could be sent to prison for up to 10 years.

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