LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - When an illegal immigrant accused in the June 2009 drunk-driving deaths of three people made an Angelina County court appearance Friday, the judge did not set a bail amount because Vincente Gonzalez has an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold against him, according to the district's attorney's office.
Federal and state officials arrested Gonzalez in Deer Park Thursday after he had been on the run for seven years.
Gonzalez is still being held in the Angelina County Jail on three second-degree felony intoxicated manslaughter charges, a third-degree intoxicated assault charge, third-degree felony intoxicated assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury charge, and an ICE hold.
Gonzalez appeared in Judge Paul White's 159th Judicial District Court. Because Gonzalez doesn't speak English, White appointed Rudy Velasquez, who is bilingual, as his defense attorney.
Gonzalez is now facing the possibility of spending the next 70 years behind bars.
"I was real excited to hear Gonzalez had been captured by the U.S. marshals," said Pct. 1 Constable Tom Selman. "This case has been pending. A lot of work has been going on in the background."
Selman has been assisting the Texas Department of Public Safety with the case for years, and he is no stranger to the manhunt for Gonzalez, who had totally changed his appearance over the years.
The search didn't just take place here in the United States. It had an international aspect as well.
"The information was he has been in Mexico for an extended period of time, and the investigators just got a lucky break," Selman said.
With Gonzalez now in custody, Selman said he hopes the sentence will honor the lives lost.
"When someone flees the country, and their family hides them and secludes them away from being brought to justice, that sends a signal that the person needs to be dealt with in a manner that is not lenient," Selman said.
DPS spokesman David Hendry confirmed Gonzalez was arrested in Deer Park. According to a press release, Gonzalez was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Joint East Texas Fugitive Task Force.
Gonzalez disappeared from a Houston hospital on June 8, 2009. He is charged in the deaths of Willie Lacy, 48, of Alto, Crystal Thomas, 29, of Lufkin, and Christopher Gross, 4, after he allegedly drove drunk and ran head-on into them.
According to a previous report, DPS had not placed Gonzalez under arrest at the time he was in a Houston hospital recovering from injuries sustained in the wreck. Then-DPS spokesman Greg Sanches said Gonzalez was in the hospital with a broken leg and brain bleed and was not considered a flight risk.
Sanches said when Gonzalez escaped from the hospital that he cut his hair and put on some kind of disguise.
US Deputy Marshal Jim Cheerful said the arrest came from information in a Deep East Texas Crime Stoppers tip. He said they arrested Gonzalez while he was working with a landscaping crew.
The press release stated Gonzalez was indicted in 2009 for the alleged accident. Intoxication manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and intoxication assault carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.