Deaths of children, mother still raw for Houston family months after drunken driving wreck – Houston Chronicle

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Damien House, left, talks with Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, after a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The vehicle displayed was being driven by Damien House’s wife Porsha Branch when it was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Derrick Russ is taken to hospital after having a medical issues during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The car driven by his daughter Porsha Branch, that was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March was displayed during the conference. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Damien House, left, with Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, look at the vehicle driven by accused drunken driver Daniel Canada before they spoke at a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The car of Damien House’s wife, Porsha Branch, was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Derrick Russ, second from left, stands with his son-in-law, Damien House, as he speaks during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. Shown behind them are Mark Herman, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable, back left, Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, right. The car displayed at the conference was being driven by Damien House’s wife, Porsha Branch, and was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
The vehicle that was being driven by Porsha Branch when it was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March is shown displayed during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Mark Herman, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable, left, Derrick Russ, Alan Rosen, Harris County Precinct 1 Constable, Damien House, Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, are shown during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The car displayed at the conference was being driven by the daughter of Russ Damien and Derrick House’s wife, Porsha Branch, and was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Alan Rosen, Harris County Precinct 1 Constable, Damien House, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, and Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, right, are shown during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The car displayed at the conference was being driven by Derrick House’s wife, Porsha Branch, and was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Alan Rosen, Harris County Precinct 1 Constable, left, Damien House, second from left, and others are shown as Mark Herman, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable, speaks during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The car displayed at the conference was being driven by Damien House’s wife, Porsha Branch, and was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, speaks as Mark Herman, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable, gives a hug to Damien House, with Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, shown right, during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The car displayed at the conference was being driven by Damien House’s wife, Porsha Branch, and was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
The vehicle that was being driven by Porsha Branch when it was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March is shown displayed during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
An ambulance’s siren crawled closer and louder as Harris County constables on Tuesday fanned Derrick Russ, collapsed and soaked with sweat against a law enforcement vehicle.
Next to him was the mangled wreck of a car that his daughter and three grand children died in last March. Russ, 48, came to and wept.
“Ever since it happened, he hasn’t been himself,” said Damien House, Russ’ son-in-law and father of the three children. “He’s been holding it in since the funeral.”
District Attorney Kim Ogg attributed the grieving grandfather’s fainting to anxiety and trauma from the four deaths at the hands of accused drunken driver Daniel Canada — charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
“Nobody ever gets over a crime,” Ogg said, as paramedics tended to Russ. “They may get through it — but they never get over it.”
The unexpected, emotional scene unfolded about 14 minutes into a news conference at a Harris County Sheriff’s Office storage lot, near Tomball, where authorities urged drivers to think twice about drinking and driving during the holiday season.
Alan Rosen, Harris County Precinct 1 Constable, right, assists Derrick Russ after he had a medical issue during a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. A car was displayed at the conference that was being driven by his daughter, Porsha Branch, and was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
Despite the call to curb driving while intoxicated offenses — Sean Teare, head of Ogg’s Vehicular Crimes Division, predicts that law enforcement will likely respond to 1,700 more crimes of that nature by year’s end.
“In the days of ride shares, it’s inexcusable,” Teare said.
He offered sobering statistics for Harris County roads. This year, the district attorney’s office has accepted 54 counts of intoxication manslaughter for fatal incidents. The number of roadway deaths involving drugs and alcohol are likely higher, he said, accounting for the wrecks where the accused drivers have not been identified and charged.
Charges for intoxicated assault have added up to 170, he continued.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement has made more than 15,000 DWI arrests.
The gathering of Harris County’s constables and prosecutors in the Canada case allowed House to see the vehicles involved in the deadly crash for the first time.
Teare walked House, 32, to Canada’s vehicle amid a graveyard of wrecked law enforcement vehicles, a Houston police helicopter and cars from other investigations. The suspect’s car had a wrecked front end from slamming into the back of 28-year-old Porsha Branch’s sedan while stopped at a red light in northwest Harris County.
Damien House, left, looks at the vehicle inwhich his wife and 3 children died as he talks with Sean Teare, Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Vehicular Crimes Division, before a media conference about curbing driving while intoxicated offenses held at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Northwest Command, 23828 Tomball Parkway, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Tomball. The vehicle displayed was being driven by Damien House’s wife Porsha Branch when it was hit and burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake in March. The accused drunken driver Daniel Canada was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter.
The vehicle burst into flames, killing her and her children King, 5; Messiah, 2; and her youngest, 7 months-old Drake.
Twenty minutes before the fatal crash, a sheriff’s deputy stopped Canada for driving at a high rate of speed. Officials said at the time that the deputy, whose job did not entail traffic patrol, did not notice any “outward signs of impairment” and let him go.
According to a statement announcing the news conference, Sheriff Ed Gonzales was invited to attend but he was absent.
Prosecutors have combed through Canada’s financial and phone records but have unable to determine where he was drinking prior to the crash. His blood-alcohol level at the time was 0.15, according to investigators.
“He could have been drinking anywhere,” prosecutor Lynn Nguyen said.
Canada was visiting Houston from Longview in northeast Texas and may have been staying with a friend, she continued. He remains jailed on the charges and is slated for trial next April.
He faces anywhere from five years to life in prison.
Nine months since the crash, remnants of the family’s clothing remained in the trunk of the charred vehicle. House said they had been in the middle of moving.
With four days to go until Christmas — House said their family would normally celebrate the holiday together.
“Me and my family, we just want justice,” House said.
Julio Zaghi, victim services director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, watched as Russ fainted in Constable Alan Rosen’s arms and recognized what he saw.
“That’s the physical symptoms of a person who’s grieving — people don’t realize the amount of devastation this type of incident causes families,” said Zaghi, whose organization received about $108,000 from the district attorney’s office to help victim and their families.
“You’re walking around, you’re functioning, but inside — you’re feeling the pain of losing your whole family,” he continued.
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Nicole Hensley is a staff writer for the Houston Chronicle. She joined the Chronicle in 2018 from the New York Daily News and after writing for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. A native of Seattle, Nicole is a graduate of Washington State University.
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