SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio woman will serve time in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday in the 2019 hit-and-run death of a prominent San Antonio surgeon.
Melissa Peoples entered the plea during a court hearing on Tuesday. She agreed to a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to intoxication manslaughter and pleading no contest to a charge of failure to stop and render aid. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 14.
Peoples fatally struck 58-year-old Dr. Naji Kayruz with her car on Feb. 4, 2019. Kayruz was riding his bicycle in the bike lane of an Interstate 10 access road when he was struck and killed near the Dominion.
Peoples drove off, but was later arrested after the crash at her home when witnesses helped lead police to her.
Kayruz’s family and staff members said the surgeon had been cycling for more than 12 years and rode with many local teams.
“Dr. Kayruz loved to cycle anytime he wasn’t working, and when he had free time, he would cycle,” Felicia Mares previously told KSAT. Mares worked as one of two staff members in Kayruz’s office.
Mares said Kayruz, who had practiced in San Antonio for more than 25 years, is greatly missed by the cycling community, his patients and to many people who knew his kindness.
“He will be truly missed and he will be always remembered. We loved Dr. Kayruz,” Mares said. “He’s been a wonderful boss, and the best doctor anybody could have.”
After her plea hearing, Peoples broke her nearly 3-year-slience to let her victim’s family know she is deeply remorseful.
“I would like to first and foremost say to the family how terribly sorry I am for all of this,” she said as she became emotional. “I would like for them to know I wasn’t partying. It wasn’t happy hour. I had two TABC investigations done and there was no restaurant or bar that I was at. No celebrating at all.”
Peoples said before the crash, she was dealing with a pressure cooker of a tumultuous week.
Attorney Demetrio Duarte Jr. said Peoples had been in an abusive marriage that created a domino effect.
“On that day, there was so much going on,” Peoples said. “I was given divorce papers that were fictitious. My husband told me we were getting divorce and that I was being kicked out of my home. He said I had a certain amount of time to leave the home I built with him and for my children.”
Duarte said Peoples had been drinking at the time her husband had kicked her out during an argument.
Peoples said being in such an intense domestic violence environment played a big part in her actions the day of Kayruz’s death.
“Domestic abuse is high in Bexar County,” she said. “You feel trapped. It is filled with coercion, control. It is calculated, it is manipulative, and all of that orchestrated on that day. He kicked me out and threw all of my belongings in the car. I had a storage unit to go to. Living on a week where he kept coming at me and coming at me. We need to find better ways to help victims of domestic abuse so that things like what I did do not happen.”
Peoples said she understands that does not excuse her actions.
“I did not realize what happened, and that was what was astonishing to me,” Peoples said. “If you watch the intake video and things that were a part of my case, I was not even aware of what had happened. Had I known that there was a person there, I would have stopped. I didn’t know what had happened at all.”
Peoples said she never wanted the BMW she was driving back for personal use, but instead to get rid of it.
“I wouldn’t dare bring myself to get in that car again,” she said, tearfully. “I was going to sell it and use the money to live off of since I was kicked out of my home. I had nothing.”
She said she thinks about Kayruz constantly.
“For a man that I had never met, he has changed my life so profoundly and for the better,” Peoples said emotionally. “I haven’t had a drop to drink. I have been faced with prison every day for almost three years and I had not had one drop to drink and I don’t intend to drink.”
She said it breaks her heart knowing what she took away from his family.
“If they think a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about how there is one less chair at the table or how Anthony is about to graduate, and his dad won’t see him do that. Or the fact that is mother won’t be able to have him send her a Mother’s Day card. The fact that he can’t go to church or see Mass or Christmas is coming up or the fact that he will never see his grandchildren, or his son, Anthony, get married. Those are the things I think of constantly. It is inescapable some days.”
People said she doesn’t want to be defined by her fatal mistake.
“If people knew who I have become, they would see that this is crime isn’t me,” she said. “This is not who I am. This moment will be forever changing in everyone’s life, but I promise I will make it for the good and not let it define me. It is going to get me going in the right direction. I have the tools to do that now. And even facing prison.”
Since the crash, Peoples has been out on bond, and she said she has volunteered for different organizations dedicated to fighting domestic abuse.
She said she plans to continue that mission of awareness to stay on the right path and to prevent others from making the same mistake she did.
“I plan to take advantage of any type of resource,” she said. “Whether school or program counseling, I want to be a part of those components that would help build me up to be the best person I can be when I am in prison.”
Peoples’s official sentencing will take place Dec. 14, where she will be face to face to Kayruz’s family during victims’ impact statements.
“I hope the Kayruz family will forever know how sorry -- how sorry I am and for someone I have never met,” she said, emotionally. “He truly has made a great deal in my life.”
Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz, the victim’s wife, released a statement in response to the plea deal that was made.
“Any sentence she would have gotten doesn’t bring justice because it doesn’t bring my husband back. It is still a lifetime of grief and suffering. We will forever miss my husband,” said Dr. Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz.