Two Houston police officers are in the hospital after their car burst into flames following a rollover crash caused by a drunken driver in southeast Houston, police said.
Cesar Collazo, 23, is charged with intoxication assault and failure to stop and render aid.
According to authorities, the crash happened around midnight Monday near Telephone Road and Peekskill Lane while the officers were responding to a call.
While they were driving, a Lincoln Navigator driven by Collazo started turning right in front of the officers' Chevy Tahoe causing a head-on collision, police said.
Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a news conference that the patrol vehicle rolled and caught fire while the two officers were still inside.
“The officer’s patrol vehicle ended up rolling several times,” Acevedo said. “It caught fire. Two officers were inside the vehicle. The passenger officer (Alonzo Reid, 25) was able to get out with some assistance. (Reid), along with a witness passerby were able to get back in the patrol vehicle that had burst into flames, and rescued the driver officer(John Daily, 25).”
Channel 2 Investigates learned Collazo was initially in the road, and was knocked out momentarily, eyewitnesses said, but after a few minutes, he got up and fled the scene.
Collazo was later apprehended by Houston police officers and failed a field DUI test, according to one official as well as multiple eyewitness accounts.
Collazo also failed an intoxication blow test when he was taken to HPD's Southeast substation, according to police.
Multiple eyewitnesses and a law enforcement source confirmed to Channel 2 Investigates there was a case of open beer in Collazo's vehicle.
Newly released surveillance video from a nearby business captured the moment the crash happened. Daily and Reid were driving down the street when the other car pulled in front of them, and the impact can be seen in the top left corner of the footage.
Both officers were transported to Southeast Memorial Hermann, where they are currently being treated for their injuries, police said.
According to Acevedo, it is a Christmas miracle that both officers survived, given the severity of the damage.
“If it wasn’t because his partner was able to get out with the help of a civilian, and if it wasn’t because they were able to get back in that burning police car that I can tell you is not recognizable -- that full-size Chevy Tahoe is not recognizable – we would be talking about a dead officer right now,” said Acevedo. “I’m thankful he’s alive.”
Daily is in for a “tough fight,” according to Acevedo, who said the 25-year-old officer – who has been with the department for about two years – suffered serious burns to more than 50 percent of his body.
According to Acevedo, Daily was planning on spending the holiday with his family in California, but now his parents will be making an unexpected trip to Houston.
"Instead of (Daily) going to see his family, they’re going to have to come here because they got a call that nobody should get,” Acevedo said. “Their 25-year-old, vibrant son (who) was just starting his career with the Houston Police Department is in here fighting for his life and now fighting in the next months to come."
Acevedo asked for prayers, as Daily underwent surgery Monday morning and is scheduled to have one more surgery Monday afternoon in the start of his long road to recovery.
“Pray that the doctors, as they start surgery right now, and as they do surgeries in the upcoming days and weeks, that they can restore his health so he can regain his job and his career and come back to our department,” Acevedo said.
Daily is in critical condition, but barring any unexpected circumstances, is expected to survive, Acevedo said.
Officers said Reid suffered burns to his legs and other parts of his body but is expected to make a full recovery.
KPRC2 spoke with the good Samaritan over the phone. The man said he jumped to help Reid out of the car, and Reid turned back to help Daily escape from the flames.
The good Samaritan also said it might have been a lot worse for the officers if no one had stayed to help them out of the wreckage.
Neighbors at the Quail Meadows apartment complex were quick to recognize Juan Carlos Salgado as the good Samaritan who pulled Reid from the burning wreck.
Salgado, a landscaper by trade, was walking home with a friend when he said he heard the crash.
"We noticed there was a flame, coming out of the car, we knew it was going to explode," Salgado said in Spanish.
Salgado said he was compelled to help.
"How am I going to leave a person in need? We're all people," he said.
Salgado said the punched through a window of the Tahoe with his bare hand. His right hand was noticeably swollen Monday morning.
The good Samaritan said he is not concerned about recognition but was glad to help by pulling Reid, the passenger of the police cruiser, from the vehicle.
Reportedly, Reid then helped pull his partner, John Dailey, from the vehicle.
During a news conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Reid was surrounded by family and in good spirits. He asked for the city of Houston to pray for the two officers’ recovery process and urged people not to drink and drive.
“There are consequences when you are drinking and driving. I want to caution all Houstonians, as we continue to go through this holiday season, please be very mindful. If you’re drinking, then don't be behind the wheel,” Turner said. “Please do not drink and get behind the wheel. You’ll put other people’s lives at stake, as well as your own. And I do hope that the (district attorney) will take these type of cases very seriously as a reminder that if you do that, there are consequences.”
Acevedo said there is no excuse for drinking and driving and Monday’s incident and all other drinking and driving accidents are 100 percent preventable.
“We lead the nation in people drinking and driving. I don’t know if it’s the Texas bravado. I’m not sure what it’s about, but there is no excuse for it,” Acevedo said. “Every drunk driving fatality, every drunk driving injury is absolutely preventable. They are the result of people making the decision to drink and then get behind the wheel of a vehicle that’s really a weapon and putting us all at risk.”
Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, said Collazo was taken into custody after trying to flee the scene.
"As far as this suspect that caused all this carnage tonight, we're absolutely going to keep a very close eye on this case to make sure he's prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Gamaldi said. "We almost lost an officer tonight because of his selfish actions."
Authorities told KPRC2 that Collazo will not be eligible for bail.
At an afternoon news conference outside Memorial Hermann Hospital Lisa Malone, Officer Reid’s mother expressed her gratitude to the nearby resident who raced to the scene after witnessing the crash.
"I’m just glad that my son is alright and I would like to thank the civilian,” Malone said.
Daily suffered severe burns over 50% of his body. His father, Owen Daily, made it clear his son has a long road ahead,
“We can’t say enough to the community. We need your prayers. John needs his prayers,” Owen Daily said while standing beside his wife and son.
Daily’s twin brother Michael, also an HPD officer, says drunks on the road where his brother was hit has been an issue.
“Specifically in that area, and in Houston in Harris County, we have a huge problem with drunk driving," Michael Daily said.
Acevedo said detectives believe Collazo was making a beer run when he slammed into the officers as they were responding to a call of a pursuit. Acevedo says detectives are attempting to put together a 12 to 24-hour timeline.
“We are obviously going all over the area, trying to retrace the steps,” Acevedo said.
Harris County First Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg says Collazo got into to town during the weekend. For this reason, they are seeking a high bond for Collazo, as they deem him a flight risk.
“He said he had only been in the city for a day. He is on a work visa that expires at the end of this month, and basically, he has no contacts with this community,” Berg said.
Collazo is facing four felony counts of allegedly driving under the influence and leaving the scene without rendering aid.