SAN ANTONIO -

Investigators said the blood-alcohol level of Arturo Noriega, 37, was three times the legal limit when he crashed broadside into a sedan driven by Richard Casas on Labor Day weekend two years ago.

Casas, 47, died six hours later in the hospital.

Since this was Noriega’s fourth drunken driving arrest, he was charged with intoxication murder.

Before prosecutors could call their first witness in his trial Wednesday, Noriega pleaded guilty. The jury’s task now is to decide his punishment. The punishment range for the offense is from five to 99 years to life in prison.

“Two seconds, three seconds later that could have been me,” said Fred Hemphill, the state’s first witness.

Hemphill and his wife, Dorothy, were in a car right behind Casas waiting on South Presa to cross Highway 181 South.

Noriega’s truck was headed north on 181 and ran the red light at the intersection slamming broadside into Casas’ sedan.

“It came barreling down going fast and there’s no way there was a tap on the brakes,” Hemphill testified.

He said he called 911 and then checked on both vehicles. He said Casas appeared to be alive, but was seriously hurt.

Noriega, he said, appeared to be passed out.

“I could smell alcohol and I could see some beer cans in the truck,” he said.

Nearly two hours after the accident, prosecutors told the jury that Noriega’s blood-alcohol level was .246, which is more than three times the legal limit of .08.

Testimony will continue on Thursday.

For a list of recent stories Paul Venema has done, click here.