Family's night out ends in a tragic I-10 wreck
Couple, child killed when car struck by drunken driver, police say
Brandon Brown was driving on I-10 early Sunday when he saw the wreckage that had been snarling traffic for several hours. Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
"I saw them towing off the van and I saw the other car, but I didn't know what kind of car it was," Brown said. "I gave it no second thought."
Only later would he learn the car was his sister's, and that she, her new husband and her 2-year-old son had died in the flaming wreckage. They were victims, police say, of a drunken driver whose blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
Brown had driven by the fiery site Saturday night, shortly after it occurred about 8:30.
"They had the freeway blocked off. I went all around the accident," said Brown, still stunned after learning what happened.
Family members said Tenisha Williams, 26; her husband, S.J. Williams; and her son, Xavier Brown, 2, were returning from a movie when their Toyota Corolla was rear-ended by a speeding Dodge van in the 8700 block of the East Freeway.
"When (the other driver) hit the car, it hit the gas tank," said Felinda Williams, Tenisha's mother. "She spun out of control. When it was spinning, it burst into flames."
Police said the driver of the van, Juan Felix Salinas, 42, was treated for minor injuries at Memorial Hermann Hospital, where his blood-alcohol level tested at three times the .08 legal limit for intoxication in Texas.
Salinas, who was out on $1,500 bond for a previous charge of assaulting a family member, is facing three counts of intoxication manslaughter, police said.
Witnesses told police Salinas was speeding and rapidly changing lanes just before his van rear-ended the Toyota.
"The guy in the van came around me going fast — I was going like 60 or 70 and he went past me like I was crawling. I told my wife 'Watch that car — he's going to hit that car.' And he did," said Daniel Garcia, who was driving with his wife and three boys.
Garcia, 39, said he pulled onto the shoulder and tried to help Tenisha Williams out of the fiery car.
"She kept saying 'Help me' and I would say, 'Ma'm I'm trying to,' " Garcia said.
He sent his son to collect fire extinguishers from trucks that had pulled over and, along with seven others, tried to extract her by prying doors open and breaking windows.
"The fire was just too hot," Garcia said.
He said he also spoke with Salinas.
"He tried to tell me that she had pulled out in front of him. I said 'You're lying, I saw it all,'" Garcia said. "He was buzzed, his speech was slurred."
Tenisha and S.J. Williams had been married for just over a month, and "she was loving it," her mother said.
"They were in their own little world," Felinda Williams said, calling her new son-in-law "a quiet guy with a smile all the time."
On her MySpace Web site, Tenisha Williams wrote that she was "in love with life and life is also in love with me."
Of her new husband, she wrote, "I never knew I could love someone so hard."
Xavier, known to everyone as "Peanut Butter," was the family's pride and joy, Williams recalled.
"We all loved him," she said, looking at the photographs her daughter posted of Xavier on her MySpace.
She said the family's strong faith will help them endure the pain of their loss.
God, she said, "gives you no more than you can stand."
Chronicle reporter Jennifer Leahy contributed to this story.