A Democratic state lawmaker arrested for drunken driving offered an emotional apology on the floor of the Texas House on Monday, drawing a standing ovation and flowers from her colleagues.
Naomi Gonzalez of El Paso crashed her BMW into another car, which then hit a bicyclist around 2 a.m. Thursday. Gonzalez, the other driver and the cyclist all went to the hospital with minor injuries. The 34-year-old was charged with driving while intoxicated.
Gonzalez sought special permission to address her colleagues and said she did so "with a heavy heart." She explained that the crash occurred as she drove alone to her Austin apartment and, "I want to be clear about this: I made a mistake and I am deeply, deeply sorry for it."
"I am sorry for the shame I have brought upon this House and my district," Gonzalez said. She added that ongoing legal issues prevented her from saying much about the incident, but that she was glad no one was seriously injured.
"To them and to you, family, friends, colleagues and constituents, I ask for your understanding and I pledge that nothing like this will happen again," Gonzalez said, her voice cracking. She also thanked constituents and lawmakers for their support and patience.
Lawmakers applauded loudly, eventually climbing to their feet. Some gave Gonzalez hugs and high-fives. Flowers were left on her desk in the chamber.
Gonzalez is not the first state lawmaker to face criminal charges while in office, though addressing the Legislature to apologize is less common.
Not everyone deemed the gesture appropriate. The Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving lamented the appearance, saying it made someone charged with drunk driving and injuring others into a victim.
Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for Texas MADD, said he understood House members supporting Gonzalez and wouldn't expect them to sit silent as she apologized.
"But cut out the flowers," he said. "That's over the top."
Gonzalez, an attorney who formerly worked in the domestic violence unit of the El Paso County attorney's office, was first elected in 2010 and serves on a House Ethics Committee. She had been seen as a rising Democratic star in the Texas House and was named freshman of the year by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus last session.
In a statement Friday night - more than 24 hours after word of Gonzalez's arrest first broke - the Texas House Democratic Caucus released a statement calling the incident "unfortunate" and asking that Gonzalez's privacy and that of the other victims be respected.
"The members of the House Democratic Caucus extend our prayers and concerns to Rep. Gonzalez and all of the other individuals involved in the incident during this difficult time," said Democratic Caucus head Rep. Yvonne Davis. "Indeed, driving while intoxicated is a serious allegation that should not and cannot be taken lightly; the judicial system is the best place to resolve this situation rather than the media."
The El Paso lawmaker's BMW rear-ended a Fiat that then struck a bicyclist at 1:56 a.m., Austin police spokesman Jermaine Kiglore said. Gonzalez, the bicyclist and an unknown number passengers from the Fiat were taken to the hospital with non-serious injuries.
A court document shows that Gonzalez told officers that she had been drinking at a bar known as The W before she returned to the Capital to retrieve her car. The W is one of the locations where bands were playing for the popular SXSW music festival in Austin.
According to the police report obtained by ABC-7's I-Team, Gonzalez was given a field sobriety test while in the hospital. The officer noted that there was a strong scent of alcohol while he talked with her.
Asked to count backward from 67 to 42, she replied: ""67...65, 64...60, 60, 59, ummm, 59, 58, 57, 58, 57, 57, 56, F***, 58, 56, no, 57..."
The exchange lasted until Gonzalez counted below 42.
Asked if she remembered which number she was asked to count to, the officer wrote that she replied, "no."
The preliminary breath testing device showed that she had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.164. The number is roughly twice the legal limit.
Gonzalez was released from the hospital and then taken to jail.
She has since released a statement to the media writing, "Obviously recent events are concerning for me. However I would like to say first that my thoughts and prayers go out to the other persons involved. I hope you understand, I won't be commenting further until the legal matters have been resolved."
Joe Pickett, the senior member of the El Paso delegation, sat down with ABC-7 to discuss the impact of the reports on the agenda for El Paso representatives. He said he believed that this wouldn't affect their goals, but he stressed that this would be a difficult event for Gonzalez to overcome.
"This will be tough for her to recover from," said Pickett. "El Paso will recover. Our agenda will recover, but her personally will probably be the toughest thing."
He added that he was reserving judgement until more information was determined, but pointed out that it will ultimately be the voters in the 76th District that will determine whether Gonzalez should continue in her role as a representative of El Paso. State representatives serve terms of two years.
Gonzalez first was elected in 2010 and serves on a House ethics committee. She is a rising Democrat in the Texas House who was named freshman of the year by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus last session.
She is an attorney who formerly worked in the domestic violence unit of the El Paso County attorney's office, according to her campaign website.