Two years after a drunk driver killed a teenager in a fatal crash, the bartender who served the driver on the fateful night was arrested in at work in Houston. Local authorities said that the action was just the start of a campaign targeting bartenders who over-serve.
In May 2016, Edin Palacios drank 11 or beers over the course of two and a half hours at El Muelle Seafood Bar, an oyster bar is north Houston. He then paid his check and drove off only to find himself pursued by police shortly after. While trying to escape the cops, he collided with a Dodge Charger, killing Jocelynn Valero, an 18-year-old on her way home from the prom.
In April, a Harris County court convicted Palacios of felony murder citing his .18 blood alcohol content. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
Then, prosectors revisited the surveillance tapes from El Muelle. Court filings claim that the footage shows bartender Natalia Ortiz over-serving an “obviously intoxicated” Palacios. He “was observed having difficulty in balance and coordination, dropping items from his hand … nearly stumbles while walking,” states the charges. “This behavior was exhibited in front of the Defendant as she knowingly and intentionally continued to serve and deliver beer to the intoxicated subject.”
Houston Police officers walked into El Muelle on May 16, 2018 and arrested Ortiz. She was charged with serving a drunk, a misdemeanor. However, the arrest process also revealed that bartender was allegedly using a false social security number; consequently, she is now facing an additional third degree felony charge.
The bartender’s arrest came exactly two years and two days after the fatal crash. Ortiz seemed caught off-guard by the events. KHOU 11 News reporter Lauren Talarico approached her while she was detained in the back of a police cruiser and asked if she had anything to say to the Valero family. “Who is the Valero family?” Ortiz replied. “I don’t understand anything. What is happening?”
The Harris County District Attorney’s office said that Ortiz’s arrest is just the start of a larger crackdown on bartenders. “It’s a great responsibility to serve alcohol to individuals, and if you do that, you have to do it responsibly, and if you don’t, we’re going to come get you,” said Sean Teare of the Vehicular Crimes Division.“We’re not going after servers or bars that are conducting business legally, we’re going after people whose actions are criminal and negligent. When those actions result in the tragedies every day that we deal with on these roads, we’re going to come after them.”