Changing Courses: Lives Affected by Drunk Driving

There's a sense of accomplishment as Jessica Olguin shows off her new apartment.

The 20-year-old Bryan native recently moved to Huntsville to attend Sam Houston State University. Her journey to this point has been difficult, challenges that go beyond SATs and final exams.

"I didn't have a day that went by that I didn't cry,” said Jessica.

When she was 11-years-old, her life was completely changed by a man she'll never meet. Jessica, her parents and siblings were returning home from a family party when a drunk driver slammed into their vehicle head-on as they were traveling on Highway 21 near Highway 47.

"When I woke up, I realized I'm in a small bed. There's all these machines around me and I have things all over me. And I couldn't move. And it was just really scary for me."

Jessica was permanently paralyzed. Three weeks later, when the doctor and family members thought she was well enough, more devastating news -- her dad, 34-year-old Hector and 6-year-old Melissa did not survive.

"I felt like I had lost everything and there was no hope and nothing to go for,” she said.

Therapy has helped her physical recovery. The emotional scars are much harder to heal.

"I did attempt to commit suicide and I ended up in the hospital because I just didn't feel like I wanted to live anymore,” said Jessica.

Memories of her lost loved ones eventually gave her strength to move forward with the life she wanted.

“I know my father and sister would want something better for me,” she said.

We know there are two sides to every story. We can't hear from the driver who caused Jessica's wreck because he also died in the accident. And we rarely get to hear from other DWI offenders. But there's one man who promised a grieving family he'd spend the rest of his life telling his story.

If you saw Houston Sutton around town, you probably couldn't tell he's killed a man. As he orders lunch and talks about that Navasota Rattlers football team - "They're a heck of a team. They play hard,” Houston is just a regular young man who addresses me as ma'am.

But the Texas A&M graduate has served jail time for intoxication manslaughter. He agrees to take us to the site of the accident, Highway 21 near Old Dime Box, where he talks about the incident he says destroyed his life.

"It's the second time I’ve stopped. The first time was right after I was charged. It’s tough,” said Houston.

On the morning of October 9, 2009 Houston was traveling through the area on his way to the Austin.

"I just lost a good family friend. I've had tests. I've been working.”

He wanted to relax, so he and some friends went to Northgate, where he had some drinks.

“I didn’t have the intention of getting wasted,” he says.

Houston says he had between two and six drinks through the course of the night. The next morning there was still alcohol in his system when he crashed head on into another vehicle, killing 43-year-old Rena Vega.

His blood alcohol content at the time was .04, nowhere near the legal limit, but enough to charge him in the man's death. Houston served jail time and is on probation for seven more years, which makes the job search even harder for the recent graduate.

"Any time you check that mark that says ‘Are you a felon? Have you been convicted of a felony,’ it essentially takes away my education,’ he said. "People think I got off easy, but essentially I have a life sentence."

He finds comfort in knowing Vega's family has forgiven him, but admits he probably will never forgive himself. And he's promised them he'll continue sharing the story so others learn from his mistake.

"It's not the alcoholics or the bad people that this kind of thing happens to. It's every-day people. It can happen to you or me again. But everyone has a choice. I can't make it for you,” he said.

Jessica and Houston both volunteer with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They share their stories at schools and on impact panels designed to help people arrested for drunk driving not become repeat offenders.

Jessica has set up a Facebook page where she answers questions related to her accident and more. Find it by clicking on the link below.