SAN ANTONIO – All eyes and cameras in the room were focused on her. It would have been understandable if she seemed nervous, but her hands didn’t shake and her voice remained strong, even as she stood at the front of a crowded Bexar County courtroom.
Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz believes her husband was with her as she confronted the woman who killed him.
“I experience my husband and I feel him. I feel him holding my hand sometimes at night. I think he was there in the courtroom,” said Vasquez-Kayruz.
Dr. Naji Kayruz, 58, was killed in a crash in February of 2019. He was riding a bicycle along the I-10 access road near Leon Springs when 49-year-old Melissa Peoples swerved into the bike lane and hit him.
Peoples was charged with intoxication manslaughter after Kayruz’s death. It was an instant, an accident and a tragedy that changed a family forever.
Naji Kayruz’s son, Anthony, was in New York when he found out. Nearly three years later, he still clings to the things that remind him of his father.
“I wear his wedding ring around my neck every single day,” said Anthony Kayruz.
He wears the ring on a chain around his neck, a constant reminder of his father. A ring and the smiling family snapshots Anthony keeps on his phone, show clearly what a drunk driver took away.
“We have all these memories and we have all these reminders. But what do they do? It reminds us that we don’t want memories. We want my dad,” said Anthony.
Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz lost her husband of 25 years that night, Anthony lost his father, Walid Keyrouz lost his twin brother. Dr. Naji Kayruz was one of San Antonio’s most renowned robotic surgeons, an avid cyclist, and a loved one lost.
“You don’t find men like this. You know, they’re very, very rare, kind, talented, giving. He loved surgery. Oh my gosh, he loved surgery,” said Sandra.
“This is you learn how to deal with the pain, but only you learn how to deal with the pain. The pain does not go away. You take the pain with you everywhere,” said Walid Keyrouz, Dr. Naji Kayruz’s brother, who spells his last name in traditional French.
These are the emotions the three members of the Kayruz Family carried with them into the courtroom, face to face with Melissa Peoples, with the memories of what she did that night in February of 2019 on their minds. The family said her blood alcohol level that night was two and a half times the legal limit.
“He saved lives…you took a life. He would have stopped and rendered aid. You left the scene and tortured us for three years until the deadline of a plea bargain,” said Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz, as she read from a written statement.
Melissa Peoples agreed to a plea bargain. A guilty plea in exchange for 15 years in jail, eligible for parole in less than four. The Kayruz family doesn’t agree with the deal.
“This permeated the whole community cycling Lebanese medical. And I’m just disappointed,” said Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz.
“We always reach out to the victims to get their input. That’s not the final determination in terms of what kind of a plea bargain offer we will make, but certainly their input is very important to us,” said Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales.
Gonzales said his office is always looking to improve, especially when it comes to victim’s families. Gonzales is also very clear when it comes to drunk driving accidents causing the death of an individual. He said the laws need to be changed and the punishment increased, for families like the Kayruz’s and others.
“This is a heart-wrenching situation and my heart goes out to the family because nothing obviously that we do is ever going to bring the doctor back,” said Gonzales.
The District Attorney also pointed out that when Melissa Peoples is eligible for parole, and when she gets parole may be two very different things.
Gonzalez said according to statistics from the Texas Parole Board, people who have been convicted of the same crime as Peoples, usually serve 75 to 80% of their sentence. Meaning, Peoples may be eligible in less than four years, but most convicted of similar crimes serve at least 10 years.
Those are numbers that may change how the Kayruz’s feel about the plea deal, but it doesn’t lessen the pain, a pain they hope others never have to endure.
“I hope people don’t hear this story and then flip to the next channel and go on with their day. If anything, I hope people can just take a second from their day and think about what this loss means, what it would mean if they were in our shoes and try and internalize that in their daily life,” said Anthony Kayruz.