By CHRISTINA R. GARZA
Special to the NEWS
LOS FRESNOS – A Marine Corps Meritorious Mast award to Edoardo “Eddie” Polanco is on display at his home in Los Fresnos. Among the many achievements listed is Eddie Polanco’s participation in 25 tactical convoys covering over 6,000 miles in Iraq, where he served two tours before returning home safely.
The 25 year-old veteran Marine was killed less than 10 miles from his home while training for a San Antonio’s Rock N’ Roll Marathon on March 18, 2012, at the end of “Texas Week.” He was a junior in the Criminal Justice Department at the University of Texas at Brownsville, a father to a 10-month-old son, Evan, and had just married his wife, Kara Polanco, a month before.
According to a police report, Eddie Polanco was jogging down Texas Highway 100 when he was struck by a Mustang convertible driven by 25-year-old Juan Carlos Garcia at approximately 3:30 p.m. Juan Carlos Garcia allegedly attempted to flee the scene but was stopped by another vehicle.
According to a Brownsville Police Department law incident narrative, State Trooper Enrique Cantu of the Texas Department of Public Safety had conducted a motor vehicle stop on the silver Mustang in Laguna Vista prior to the accident. The narrative states that Trooper Cantu had noticed a Victor Garcia driving in and out of traffic. A citation was then issued and it was further noted that Victor Garcia did not appear intoxicated, the narrative reads. It was also reported that Cantu had suggested for Victor Garcia’s brother, Juan Carlos Garcia who was a passenger in the vehicle, to switch places and drive.
Authorities believe Juan Carlos Garcia fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the highway onto the grass before hitting Eddie Polanco.
Eddie Polanco was unresponsive when he was taken to Valley Regional Hospital in Brownsville, where he succumbed to his injuries, including major head trauma, after three hours.
Sergeant Johnny Hernandez of the Texas Department of Public Safety said that DPS would be unable to comment on pending litigation.
Grief-stricken and searching for justice for her husband, Kara Polanco has taken to social media and created the “Justice for Eddie Polanco” Facebook page in hopes of influencing what she hopes will be a fair sentencing for Juan Carlos Garcia.
The page has also served as a vessel for Kara Polanco’s online petition directed toward Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez and Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz. According to the petition, Juan Carlos Garcia may have already accepted a plea deal to serve six months in the county jail and five year’s probation. Those who’ve signed the petition hope Judge Cornejo Lopez will reject the deal and enforce a stricter punishment. While Polanco is within reach of her 1,000 signature goal, an outpouring of community support has helped her stay on track.
Still, there are some who have blamed the fatal accident on Eddie Polanco for jogging down the highway. “Joggers and cyclists have every right to be on the road; they should be protected under the law,” Kara Polanco said.
Some of the negative backlash received has spurred Kara Polanco to act. “I am starting an organization called ‘Right to Run!’ that will promote all the safety measures that Eddie practiced, like carrying his I.D.,” she said. “He would even write his blood-type on his hand, just not that day.”
According to Public Information Officer Melissa Zamora, Garcia has pleaded guilty to criminal negligent homicide, a state jail felony, and failure to stop and render aid, a third degree felony.
When asked if there was indeed a plea deal negotiated, Zamora did not comment.
Dr. Ben Brown, a Criminal Justice professor at UTB explained part of the sentencing process, saying, “The judge can accept or reject the plea bargain that the prosecution has presented, and the prosecution will have discretion over what charges to file”.
Garcia’s sentencing will be at 10 a.m. on May 23 in the 404th State District Court in Brownsville.