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Investigation reveals at least 5 dead on Harbor Bridge from wrong-way drivers over 7 years

Posted at 12:04 PM, Feb 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-23 17:21:40-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Thousands of people cross the Harbor Bridge every day. It opened in 1959 and is the gateway between San Patricio County and Corpus Christi.

Over the last few years, the Harbor Bridge has also been at the center of headlines of several fatal crashes.

An investigation by KRIS 6 News revealed that at least five people have died on that bridge in the last seven years.

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Immediately after the most recent fatality, KRIS 6 News began looking into why nothing has been done to protect those who use the bridge.

KRIS 6 News asked the Texas Department of Transportation to provide data on how many people had died in crashes caused by drivers on the Harbor Bridge between 2012 and Nov. 15, 2022.

TxDOT responded to this request by reporting one crash between Harbor Drive and Breakwater Avenue, which resulted in a fatality caused by a wrong-way driver in 2022.

However, crash reports from the Corpus Christi Police Department revealed additional fatalities and crashes caused by wrong-way drivers, as did interviews with the Portland Police Department.

"We've probably rammed vehicles at least a couple of times a year. You know, either put them into the wall, or you know, whatever pit maneuver needs to be done. But we will get the car stopped one way or the other," Portland Police Chief Mark Cory said.

The Portland Police Department said it responds to about 10 calls of wrong-way drivers coming over the Harbor Bridge every year, for drivers that entered the southbound lanes of the bridge from exit ramps.

Historically, the department has not kept data on those calls, although it intends to do so after meeting with KRIS 6 News.

Despite this, Portland PD officials said that the calls come in following major events in Corpus Christi; events they monitor so they can protect their citizens.

Crash reports state at least five people have died as a result of wrong-way drivers on the southbound stretch of the Harbor Bridge in the last seven years.

In September 2015, Lionel Guerra drove the wrong way onto the bridge and hit Julie Gatheral's Nissan head-on, which killed the Taft woman.

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Julie Gatheral was killed on September 22, 2015, as she drove over the Harbor Bridge to pick up her husband from work. Lionel Guerra pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter. He entered the Harbor Bridge via an off-ramp and drove the wrong way.

In February 2020, 45-year-old Ricardo Zuniga III died after causing a head-on crash that killed 38-year-old Gregory native Amy Hinojosa. Hinojosa left behind three teenagers and was described as a larger-than-life personality who had a way of connecting with people.

"As much as she would yell at me, I miss her yelling at me," Hinojosa's youngest daughter Angelena Barboza said in an interview with KRIS 6 News in 2020. "She would tell me what to do. She always knew what was best for me. Always."

Last year, the Corpus Christi Police Department said Roxanne Palacios was allegedly intoxicated when she drove onto the Harbor Bridge in the wrong direction, killing 27-year-old Mathew Banda and 37-year-old Betsy Mandujano. Both were from Sinton.

Banda was a Navy veteran and had just started dating Mandujano, who was a dispatcher for the San Patricio County Sheriff's Office.

"The reality is that she is missed and especially when you have events still going, ongoing. Christmas we dedicated the entire float for her and you know it was remarkable," Oscar Rivera, San Patricio County Sheriff said.

KRIS 6 News asked TxDOT a series of questions about safety related to these exit ramps, any ongoing plans to make these exits safer, and any action taken by TxDOT following fatalities in 2015, 2020, and 2022. We also requested an interview with TxDOT executive director Marc Williams.

TxDOT did not respond to our questions by the time part one aired on Feb. 15. On Wednesday, TxDOT answered. But, rather than answering the questions provided, the state agency provided a statement and said all questions were addressed.

To report issues or any complaints with roadways managed by the Texas Department of Transportation, click here.

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