September 2, 2008

Crash with serial DWI suspect kills Irving newlyweds

The Murderer a habitual drunk driving illegal allien

By DAN X. McGRAW / The Dallas Morning News

They were newlyweds, she a second-grade teacher, he an aspiring musician, enjoying the Labor Day weekend and driving home after a date at the movies.

Then, in a horrifying instant, their future was cut short.

A drunken-driving suspect with four previous DWI arrests and a history of police pursuits was fleeing authorities early Monday when he caused a fiery crash, officials said, seriously injuring himself and killing the young couple.

Late Monday, officials charged Uriel Perez Palacios, 22, of Dallas with two counts of intoxication manslaughter and three counts of intoxication assault.

Erika Clouet, 24, and German Clouet, 23, of Irving were pronounced dead at the scene, less than two months after their wedding.

"Many deputies said it was one of the worst accidents that they ever saw," said Kimberlee Leach, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department. "You couldn't make out what kinds of vehicles were involved."

At least three others, including two Southern Methodist University students, were injured in the wreck, which left one vehicle in flames, another on its side and debris from a third scattered across the intersection of the North Central Expressway frontage road and Mockingbird Lane.

The Garland Police Department arrested Mr. Palacios in June on a charge of driving while intoxicated and released him after he paid a $500 fine, said Dallas County sheriff's Sgt. Paul Lehmann.

It wasn't until later that police realized that it was Mr. Palacios' fourth DWI offense, officials said.

It was not immediately clear why police were not aware of the previous arrests. Garland police officials were unavailable for comment Monday.

Previous chases

Mr. Palacios was also involved in two police chases prior to Monday's crash and had four outstanding drug and DWI warrants at the time of the wreck, officials said. The warrants were issued in July, after his last arrest.

The wreck occurred about 2 a.m. Monday after a Dallas County sheriff's deputy pulled over Mr. Palacios for allegedly weaving through traffic in his Chevy Tahoe on North Central Expressway.

As the deputy approached the vehicle, Mr. Palacios drove away with his lights off, authorities said. He exited at Mockingbird Lane and sped through a red light, striking another Chevy Tahoe, with five SMU students inside.

That collision sent Mr. Palacios' car into the air and into the Clouets' Scion SUV, crushing it, Ms. Leach said. Mr. Palacios was ejected from his vehicle, and his passenger, Bibiana Espinoza, 23, had to be cut from the vehicle.

Both were taken to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where they were in intensive care Monday.

Two of the SMU students were treated for injuries that weren't life-threatening.

Tequila bottles

As deputies sorted through the wreckage, they found two bottles of Patrón tequila inside the vehicle Mr. Palacios was driving, Ms. Leach said. The bottles were empty, but police could not determine how full or empty they were prior to the wreck.

Ms. Leach said that based on his most recent arrest, Mr. Palacios may have been driving on a suspended license. Sgt. Lehmann said it's unlikely that Mr. Palacios is an illegal immigrant because no deportation holds have ever been attached to his criminal offenses.

DWI charges also are pending against Mr. Palacios in a 2007 incident. In that case, a judge increased his bond from $3,500 to $100,000, but it was lowered again to $3,500 and he went free.

"[The bond] was increased and for some reason it was lowered. He made bond," Ms. Leach said. "When he posted, we are obligated to release."

Meanwhile, family and friends of the Clouets grieved.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington, Mrs. Clouet began teaching at Paul Keyes Elementary School in Irving, family members said. Her husband was a construction worker and musician in a band.

They met through their families eight years ago, and they quickly fell in love. They married on July 19, said family member Sheri Garcia.

"They had planned to have children of their own," Ms. Garcia said. "She loved children."

Tony Thetford, a spokesman for the Irving school district, said counselors will be available for children and faculty at Keyes Elementary today.

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