Somber birthday for devastated family

HOUSTON The victim was one of three girls to die in the crash this summer and Sunday would have been her birthday.

Family members celebrated that birthday with balloons, a pink cake and heartfelt messages to the birthday girl. But the candles on the cake stop at 13, even though Sunday there should have been 14 candles for Avianca Cortez.

"We are supposed to be having her birthday at home, not here," said Brittany Hutchinson, the victim's god sister.

And a birthday party at the cemetery is something this family could have never imagined.

"Just hard to explain the pain we've been going through every day," said Katty Alaniz, Avianca's mother. "It just goes by. It hurts a lot."

Her mother says they couldn't let the day go by without celebrating her short life.

"It's just hard to hold off the tears for me and my family," she said.

Cortez was one of three friends killed in a July crash in northeast Houston when the SUV they were riding in was struck by a suspected drunk driver. While police say the driver, Sajan Timalshina, 25, failed a field sobriety test, they waited to arrest him until blood tests came back conclusive. But by then, investigators learned he had fled the country.

"We still need justice on this," said Roxy Alanis, the victim's sister. "This is someone we really, really loved. To know that the guy is still free, we will not rest until we know that he is caught."

While the family knows Avianca is never coming back, they live each day waiting for news of his whereabouts and with the holidays around the corner, they ask everyone to think about their pain.

"There are going to be a lot of people drinking and driving," said Dana Hutchinson, the victim's godmother. "We ask please think about us, think about her mom and sister, her cousins, aunts, friends that have lost someone so beautiful because of somebody's poor judgment."

It's an unusual and painful place to spend a loved one's birthday, but the family says it's not just special days that are difficult. And they hope there will come a day when they visit and they are a little more at peace.

"We want him brought back and we want justice for her," said Hutchinson. "She deserves it."

Timalshina faces three counts of intoxication manslaughter, but has not been located in four months. Investigators believe he may be in Nepal.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.