Guilty plea for woman who killed prominent San Antonio surgeon while driving drunk – San Antonio Express-News

Attorney David M. Prichard hugs Dr. Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz, whose husband, Dr. Naji Kayruz, was killed by a drunk driver in 2019. On Tuesday, Melissa Nicole Peoples pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter in Kayruz’s death.
Attorney David M. Prichard speaks to Anthony Kayruz before a plea hearing Tuesday for the woman accused of killing Kayruz’s father, Dr. Naji Kayruz, in 2019. Melissa Nicole Peoples pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter in Kayruz’s death.
State District Judge Velia Meza listens to defense attorney Demetrio Duarte speak alongside prosecutor Clayton Haden at a plea hearing Tuesday for Melissa Peoples, accused of intoxication manslaughter for killing Dr. Naji Kayruz in 2019.
Melissa Nicole Peoples, 49, accused of driving drunk when she killed an admired San Antonio surgeon as he rode his bicycle in 2019, pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter Tuesday in exchange for a sentence of no more than 15 years in prison.
The son and wife of Dr. Naji Tanios Kayruz, killed on Feb. 4, 2019, when Peoples’ white BMW X3 rear-ended his bicycle near the Dominion neighborhood on the Northwest Side, said they were disheartened by the plea deal but accepted it.
The agreement, which was hammered out between prosecutors and defense attorneys shortly before a hearing, removed the “aggravated” element of the charge — dropping the accusation that People’s vehicle was used as a deadly weapon — which will make her eligible for parole after serving less than four years in prison.
State District Judge Velia Meza accepted the plea Tuesday afternoon but will not sign it until she sentences Peoples on Dec. 14.
“That’s hard for me to think she could only serve that little time,” said Dr. Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz, the victim’s wife.
Dr. Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz has her hair adjusted as she waits for a plea hearing Tuesday for the woman charged with killing her husband, Dr. Naji Kayruz, in 2019. Melissa Nicole Peoples pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter.
Anthony Kayruz, 26, a third-year law student at Stanford University, said “no amount of time will ever give my mom and I justice in this case. A lot of people in the community, and a lot of cyclists, were watching this case closely, hoping it would send a strong message to drunk drivers.”
David Prichard, the Kayruz family’s lawyer, was less restrained.
“It was a sham and a disgrace,” he said. “If the DA’s office is scared to go to trial on something we think is a slam dunk then they should be in a different business.”
A spokeswoman for Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said it was standard practice for the office to not comment on a pending case.
Peoples’ attorney, Demetrio Duarte, said in the Tuesday plea hearing that his client had at times disagreed with him “with vehemence” about the case and “what was important to society and the Kayruz family.” But he assured the judge he thought it was in her best interest and better for all parties than going to trial.
“She is incredibly remorseful, and the sad thing is that through all these cases, civil and criminal, she has not had the chance to simply tell the Kayruz family how sorry she is,” Duarte said after the hearing.
The family will be allowed to give victim statements at sentencing.
On Report: Driver accused of killing San Antonio surgeon ‘frightened’ after impact
“For us, it will be a life of suffering grief and loss,” said Vasquez-Kayruz, “We’re going to miss our husband and father for the rest of our lives. We are the ones who will be serving this sentence.”
Demetrio Duarte, attorney for Melissa Peoples, leaves the 226th District Court at the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center on Tuesday. Peoples pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter for killing Dr. Naji Kayruz in 2019.
Peoples could have faced a two-to-20-year sentence if convicted in a trial. A source in the district attorney’s office who was not authorized to speak on the record about the case said critics might want to consider that Peoples has no prior criminal history and would be eligible for probation if found guilty in a trial.
Peoples’ trial had been set for Dec. 6. She remains free on bond, but is not allowed to drive and must take alcohol tests.
Prichard said he and the Kayruz family felt blindsided by the deal and were not consulted. He said he had cooperated fully with prosecutors in providing files and evidence from a civil case the Kayruz family filed against Peoples. Prichard said that case was settled in 2020 with USAA, with whom Peoples had auto insurance.
When deposed in the civil case, Peoples repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify about the details of the incident, Prichard said.
Officers said they found both Kayruz and his mangled bike some 40 yards away from the crash, his belongings scattered about the roadway.
Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled over Peoples’ SUV moments later. Police said damage described by deputies indicated that it was involved in the hit-and-run.
When questioned about the incident, Peoples told investigators she hit what she believed to be debris in the road, became frightened and left the scene, the police report stated.
Police said Peoples was reportedly involved in a minor accident at Interstate 10 and Camp Bullis Road after she drove away from the first incident. After her arrest, Peoples posted a $50,000 bond and was released three days later.
“She flees law enforcement. She does not stop and render aid, gets into another fender-bender right after hitting Dr. Kayruz,” Prichard said. “And the DA’s office is not willing to go to bat and ask for the maximum? That’s just not appropriate.”
[email protected]
Bruce Selcraig is a senior staff writer and former U.S. Senate investigator. A native Texan, he’s written for The New York Times, The Atlantic and Smithsonian, and was an investigative reporter with Sports Illustrated in the 1980s. His work has ranged from refinery explosions to Mafia-backed sports agents and a hunt for the real Robinson Crusoe, a distant Scottish relative.  


Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *