For months, Zane Hoppe’s frustration with the justice system has festered.
His stepdaughter, Amanda Lizzio, 21, of Grapevine, died in November of a head injury suffered in a chain of collisions on the side of Stemmons Freeway in north Dallas.
But Dallas County investigators cannot arrest the man they believe was drunk and caused the wreck.
Hoppe vented in the Cheers & Jeers feature in the Star-Telegram.
He addressed his note to the “drunk who hit my 21-year-old daughter while she was changing a flat tire.”
“Do the right thing and turn yourself in,” he wrote. “Running never solved anything. Does your conscience bother you?”
Hoppe also wrote: “They know where you are.”
Yes, they do know where he is. And that’s the problem in pursuing justice.
He has fled to his native El Salvador.
Dallas County accident investigators confirm that soon after the wreck on Nov. 16, 2013, the man who is now their suspect, Israel Moreira, had a blood alcohol level of 0.247 — three times the legal limit of 0.08.
His blood was drawn in a hospital where he was taken for treatment that night. But at the time, officers did not realize his role in the collisions. He became a suspect later.
So he left the country, and bringing Moreira, now 25, back to Texas to stand trial is difficult. The United States and El Salvador have had a limited extradition treaty since 1911, but it does not cover the crime of intoxication manslaughter.
Consequently, investigators said, Moreira can’t be brought back to the U.S. unless he voluntarily surrenders.
What took so long?
Lizzio’s parents are upset that Moreira was not arrested at the hospital the night of the wreck.
Sgt. Bryan Sherman, supervisor of the Dallas County sheriff’s Vehicle Crimes Unit, said that when patrol deputies arrived at the scene, evidence indicated that Moreira was a victim, not the cause of the wreck, because a fourth vehicle, a Dodge van, had slammed into the Toyota he was driving.
Deputies incorrectly believed that the driver of the van caused the chain of crashes, Sherman said.
Also, he said, his unit is responsible for investigating fatality wrecks, and detectives were not summoned to sort out the case out until after Lizzio died nine days later.
By the time detectives figured out that the actual suspect was Moreira, he had been released from the hospital.
A felony warrant accusing him of intoxication manslaughter was signed Jan. 30, 2014, but Moreira was gone.
Now Zane and his wife, Lois, worry that there will be no justice for Lizzio.
“A 21-year-old girl has died and this guy is walking around free,” said her mother, Lois Doyle. “It has devastated her entire family.”
‘We were very blessed’
Lizzio was born Aug. 11, 1992, in Valhalla, N.Y. Her mother and biological father split when she was a baby.
Amanda was 5 when she and her mother moved to North Texas.
Doyle called her a “miracle baby” because two previous pregnancies ended in miscarriage. She has no other children.
“I called her ‘the Amazing Amanda,’ ” Doyle said. “For a long time it was just she and I against the world.”
Doyle said her daughter was beautiful inside and out.
“I have only one or two pictures of her not smiling,” she said. “I’m not biased because I am her mother. She had so many friends, people she knew going back to the sixth, seventh, eighth grades.”
After the wreck, Doyle retrieved her daughter’s cellphone with her belongings. Reading the text messages her daughter shared with friends makes her smile.
“She was so concerned about the kids around her — her friends, her fellow human beings ... everybody. She brought people together. She was a peacemaker.
“I always worried, ‘Did I raise her right? Did she have the right morals?’ Well, she exceeded my expectations.
“We were very blessed with her.”
The night of the wreck
Lizzio, a 2010 graduate of Trinity High School in Euless, earned an associate degree in business at Tarrant County College. Next, she enrolled in the hospitality management program at the University of North Texas.
She also worked as a desk agent at the Grand Hyatt DFW, where she became friends with another agent, Amanda Gregory, 21, of Grapevine.
A little before 2 a.m. Nov. 16, the young women were stranded on the right shoulder of northbound Stemmons Freeway, near the Oak Lawn Avenue exit.
They had been out for the evening in Deep Ellum, but now Gregory’s 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt had a flat tire.
A passer-by, Christopher Watson, 19, of DeKalb, pulled up in a 1995 Honda Civic and got out to help.
And then, investigators learned later, a 2002 Toyota Celica driven by Moreira crashed into the back of Watson’s Civic, pushing it into Gregory’s Cobalt.
Tumbling wreckage struck the two young women and Watson.
Next, investigators determined later, a Dodge van driven by Cindy Richardson, 38, of Spring crashed into the back of Moreira’s Toyota.
Richardson passed a field sobriety test, Sherman said.
But, he said, deputies at the scene incorrectly believed she caused the wreck.
Sherman said his detectives average one fatal crash each week, but they did not immediately respond to this wreck because no one died immediately.
“We don’t respond to every wreck that’s out there,” Sherman said. “If there is a strong likelihood a person will be deceased shortly, or if there is a deceased person already on scene, then we are immediately notified.”
But, Sherman noted, the severity of Lizzio’s injuries was not immediately understood.
The two young women, Watson and Moreira were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
After a few days, Lizzio started to show slight signs of improvement, but her progress stalled.
“They underestimated how bad the brain injury was,” Doyle said. “They couldn’t get the swelling to go down and she just never really stabilized.”
Lizzio died Nov. 25.
Everyone else was released from the hospital, including Moreira.
The video evidence
With Lizzio’s death, the Vehicle Crimes Unit got involved.
Sherman said investigators learned that coincidentally a sheriff’s deputy had been on patrol nearby and the video camera mounted on his patrol car dashboard recorded the wreck.
The footage showed that the Toyota caused the wreck, Sherman said.
No one had downloaded the images earlier because deputies assumed that the driver of the van caused the wreck.
“In this case, it looks like nobody looked at it or flagged it to be looked at,” Sherman said.
“It’s not typical to review an in-car video to work a crash.”
Flipping through the case file, Sherman said, “It wasn’t until Dec. 10 that at least notes were made that the other vehicle contributed to the crash.
“It could have been earlier,” he said, “but that’s when notes were made.”
Next, Sherman said, deputies sought the blood sample that the emergency room staff took from Moreira, but to do that, they had to get a subpoena.
“Blood samples are taken by routine to check the blood type or whatever intoxicants are there so they can treat the patient,” Sherman said. “They’re not looking to take evidence for us.”
Once detectives got the sample, they learned Moreira had been extremely drunk with a blood-alcohol level of 0.247.
That was on Jan. 29, Sherman said.
The warrant for his arrest was signed a day later, but Moreira could not be found.
Not on the ‘list’ treaty
Detectives learned from agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that Moreira was back in El Salvador, Sherman said.
The U.S.-El Salvador Bilateral Extradition Treaty covers murder and other crimes such as “carnal knowledge of a child.” It also has provisions for piracy and slavery.
But it does not mention intoxication manslaughter.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr explained that the treaty, signed in 1911, is a “list” treaty, which means that “the treaty specifies the offenses for which extradition may be sought.”
A North Texas lawyer explained it another way.
“Here’s the deal,” former U.S. Attorney Richard Roper said. “You can only extradite for the very crimes set out in the treaty. If there’s something not in the treaty, then you can’t extradite.”
Changing the treaty to include other crimes would require the consent of both nations, Carr said.
Doyle contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, hoping he could help.
Marchant made a statement about the case July 15 on the House floor. He linked the problem to border security but did not mention the extradition treaty.
“No driver should have ever got behind the wheel after drinking,” Marchant said. “But this drunk driver was in Texas illegally. He should not have been in the country. He should not have been driving.
“This tragedy would have been avoided had our border been secure.”
Marchant concluded by urging President Barack Obama to secure the borders.
Investigators say they’re powerless to move on Moreira.
“Unfortunately,” Sherman said, “there is no other plan other than hoping he turns himself into ICE, or if ICE can figure out a way to turn him over to us.
“He knows we’re looking for him. He was in contact with a family member up here. At one point he was willing to turn himself in. We were willing to buy him a plane ticket.
“He apparently changed his mind.”
Sherman said he has empathy for Lizzio’s parents.
“We try to bring closure to every family member of people involved in fatality incidents,” he said. “We do our best to bring justice.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, we’re not able to being the person responsible to the courts and have the courts close out the case.”
‘I do forgive him’
For now, Doyle and Hoppe continue to grieve and wait.
They’re frustrated with sheriff’s investigators because Moreira got away.
Doyle said she met Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez in March when she interviewed her for a paper she was writing in a class at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Doyle said she did not mention that her daughter’s death was the focus of a Sheriff’s Department investigation.
“I felt it would be inappropriate to mix school and personal,” Doyle said. “I felt I was representing UTA, and I did not want to blow it by bringing up something unrelated to my project.”
Valdez, however, wrote to Doyle on July 1 expressing condolences.
The sheriff declined to be interviewed for this article.
But in her letter, Valdez told Doyle: “Your frustration with the laws of immigration are very valid, and a solution will not be found immediately. Immigration is a complex issue that affects us all, and law enforcement, as well as our nation, is diligently working to find a viable solution.
“This in no way diminishes the tragedy that has a occurred to you and your family, but be assured that the Dallas Sheriff’s Department is doing all we can to apprehend the person responsible for this senseless accident.”
As for the fugitive, they are angry.
“I get torn between the emotions — they’re all jumbled,” Doyle said. “I’m mad at him for running, because that’s a coward way to get out of it.
“There’s no reason why that guy should be walking free while my baby is dead.
“I do forgive him, but I want him brought to justice.”