TRAGEDY: Motorcyclist evading police strikes, kills pedestrian

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Officials say a motorcyclist who was riding erratically and evading police struck and killed a pedestrian in Port Isabel last Sunday evening.

The rider, identified as Mercedes resident Ronnie Huerta, 33, was seen weaving through traffic on the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway at approximately 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Traffic was heavy that evening, as motorists celebrating the first weekend of Spring Break made their way back to the mainland from South Padre Island.

“We had a call of it going in and out of traffic on the Causeway,” said Port Isabel Police Chief Robert Lopez of the motorcycle Huerta was riding. It was a Suzuki GSX-R1000, a sport bike capable of achieving high speeds at the flick of the throttle.

A Port Isabel police officer who was stationed at the Queen Isabella Boulevard and Garcia Street intersection at the base of the Causeway to monitor the tourist traffic saw the biker approaching town, Lopez said. Huerta was allegedly riding on the shoulder of the packed highway.

The officer initiated a pursuit, at which point the bike accelerated, Lopez said. “He booked it, probably doing about 70 mph,” the chief said. The speed limit on Queen Isabella Boulevard is 30 mph.

At the same time, Port Isabel resident Elizabeth “Liz” Sweeten was attempting to cross the busy road at the Musina Street intersection, heading towards Maxan Street, Lopez said. Sweeten lived nearby and was regularly seen walking back and forth between her home and the Stripes convenience store at the intersection’s southeast corner.

As Sweeten crossed, Huerta was hurtling down the road towards her; he struck her with such force that she was killed instantly, Lopez said. “He hit the woman head on and lost control of the motorcycle,” Lopez said.

After the impact, the bike still had so much momentum it went careening into a nearby palm tree where it broke in half before ricocheting northwards on Musina Street, Lopez said.

Huerta wasn’t riding alone. The police chief said Huerta’s brother was some distance ahead of him on the road. When he heard the sound of emergency sirens in the air, he turned back around, the chief said.

Huerta suffered several serious injuries in the crash. “He’s got all kinds of injuries … a lot of broken bones,” Lopez said. Huerta was transported by ambulance to Valley Regional Hospital in Brownsville, but his injuries were so severe that he was later airlifted to a trauma center at an Edinburg hospital, the chief said.

A toxicology report came back positive for the presence of both alcohol and marijuana, Lopez said. Though he did not have the exact blood alcohol level (BAC), Lopez said Huerta’s BAC was over the legal limit.

As of Thursday morning, Huerta still had not regained consciousness. As such, officials have been unable to arraign him, but Lopez said he faces a felony count of intoxicated manslaughter.

Sweeten was declared dead at the scene by Justice of the Peace Benito “Bennie” Ochoa, III. The judge also ordered an autopsy of Sweeten, which was performed early this week. “It’s a procedure. We do it to protect both parties,” Ochoa said.

Chief Lopez urged motorists to drive and ride carefully, especially as Spring Break traffic is set to increase this coming week. “I beg the visitors to please have patience. Drive smart,” Lopez said.

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