SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he's made improvements at the agency to keep better track of investigations following several reports by the KSAT 12 Defenders spotlighting the way some fatal traffic investigations have been handled in recent years.
Over the past several months, the Defenders have reported on some cases that were more than two years old before they were sent to the district attorney's office for prosecution.
Two of the cases have now resulted in indictments and arrests.
Jamie Rodriguez's case was two years and nearly three months old before it was sent to the DA's office. Rodriguez was arrested in Morris County Texas on a warrant for intoxication manslaughter on Jan. 27 after he was indicted on the charge last December, more than 32 months after he was accused of killing 64-year-old Lupe Griego in a rollover crash on Interstate 10 and FM 1518 in April 2014.
It took Sheriff’s Office investigators more than 22 months to forward Jesse James Santibanez's case to the DA’s office.
Santibanez was accused of causing a crash in August 2014 at Interstate 35 and Kinney Road that killed a 28-year-old man. He allegedly left the scene of the crash before returning later.
Police reports said Santibanez had an active warrant for driving while intoxicated with a child under 15 when the crash occurred.
Santibanez was indicted for a charge of failure to stop and render aid - death in December 2016, more than 28 months after the fatal crash.
Unhappy with the slow pace of traffic fatality investigations under the previous administration, Salazar said one of the first things he did when he took over the Sheriff’s Office was to integrate a case management system to keep better track of cases.
"Most of what was happening there was a lack of accountability on the cases. We've got these cases going into the system now where they'll be flagged, and so there's more accountability. There's more eyes on it,” Salazar said. “They're entering cases into this case management system and it puts you on a timeline, and so knowing that we have a statute of limitations, we've got certain time periods where within we've got to file it with the DA's office."
Salazar also tapped veteran DEA Agent Nancy Sanford to oversee criminal investigations at the Sheriff’s Office.
"Chief Sanford comes to us after 31 years with the DEA,” Salazar said. “She knows how to manage investigators and she knows how to manage investigations, and so that's one of the things that's on the very front of her things to do is track those cases for us."
Another traffic fatality case still making its way through the system is a crash from November 2014 that killed 58-year-old Peter Castillo and critically injured his 7-year-old grandson.
That case was sent to the DA’s office in November, one day before the two-year anniversary of the crash. It's currently under review by investigators at the DA's office.
Three more fatality crashes from 2015 are also being reviewed to see if the drivers will face charges.
Salazar said some discipline was handed down to investigators handling these cases before he took over, but he hasn't ruled out requiring more training for those deputies.
"We haven't ruled out that there may be other issues there that need to be looked at as far as training," Salazar said. "Of course, no matter where we are on training, you can always afford to do better. But for right now, that seems to have addressed it for us, and we'll keep measuring our successes as we go along."
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