Repeat DWI offender charged with murder held on $100k bond

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Saying goodbye to 18-year-old Zulema Gonzalez will be a difficult task for her whole family, including her aunt, Ashley Garza.

"She's always been a very happy person, loving, ready to help others. She always brings the good spirit to our house," said Ashley.

Gonzlaez was the passenger in a vehicle hit early Saturday morning near the Eastex Freeway, investigators say, by a drunk driver.

"I have no words to explain the pain, the situation that we're living right now. It's really hard, really, really hard," said her uncle, Rafael Gonzalez.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Man with previous convictions charged after accident

The man prosecutors say hit and killed Gonzalez is 31-year-old Ryan McLaughlin. Wheelchair-bound and bandaged, he was in court as the judge accepted the charge against him of felony murder. The Harris County prosecutor told the judge that McLaughlin had two previous DWI convictions -- one in the state of Oregon and one in Montgomery County. The third DWI charge increases the severity of the alleged crime.

McLaughlin's attorney declined comment, saying he just received the case.

The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office says McLaughlin received 30 days in jail for a DWI committed in 2015. Authorities with the DA's office says they want to do more to stop DWI fatalities and they're currently supporting new state legislation, House Bill 1327, which it says would increase the penalty to life in prison as early as the second DWI offense that ends up taking a life.

Gonzalez's aunt and uncle say that only seems fair.

"We don't get our niece back. It's not fair, she doesn't get to live life... she doesn't get to be 31 or 32."

Gonzalez was a recent Aldine High School graduate who was taking classes at Lone Star College and hoped to be an accountant. Now her family is simply struggling to pay for her funeral. They have set up an account for friends and family that want to help.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.