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Somerville families of four manslaughter victims outraged at plea deal

The man who killed four people in a May 2020 drunk driving collision sentenced to 20 years
Posted at 4:33 PM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 17:33:05-04

BRENHAM, Texas — Brenham man Ignacio Aviles pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to killing four Somerville residents in a drunk driving crash back in May of 2020. He’s been sentenced to 20 years in jail – a punishment the victims’ families say is not enough.

“[Aviles] decided that no, he won’t do 40 years, and I just don’t see where this man can think that he can say ‘okay, I admit my guilt, but only if I get to choose the punishment,'" lamented Stacy Crigler, mother to six-year-old victim Payton Francis.

Aviles was initially charged with three counts of murder, and one count of injury to a child resulting in death - all related to the fatal crash on May 9, 2020, along Lake Somerville.

Aviles had been driving drunk that night, and struck a vehicle containing Chase Sowders, 18, from San Antonio; Jasmine Maxwell, 18, from Somerville; Payton Francis, 6, from Somerville; and Justin Richard, 37, from Houston. All the victims had known each other for years, connected as family members and/or as close friends in the Somerville community.

Richard, a family friend of the younger victims, had been giving the teens and child a ride home from a friend's house that night when the car was slammed into along LBJ Road by Aviles.

Thursday Aviles pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxicated manslaughter, striking a deal with Washington County to serve 20 years in prison.

“Okay, let’s slap you on the wrist!" commented Amber Taylor, aunt of Payton Francis, referencing Aviles. "It’s not fair. And I know that life is not fair, but when it comes down to it, you’re a murderer.”

Prosecutors explained that the reduction in charges came down to issues regarding one of Aviles’ prior DWI convictions.

And as for the 20-year sentence, the district attorney said that was the best option her team could work out with Aviles, without risking a shorter sentence from a jury trial.

“Last week we thought we were going to trial. He’s been bringing us offers all along," said Julie Renken, Washington County district attorney. "I think we gave him an offer of some stacking. We never gave him a serious offer, we were planning on going to trial. I think at one point [Aviles' legal defense] offered us five years, and I basically told him to get out of my office."

Still, families of the deceased are incensed with the 20-year offer. Aviles has been credited for two years served and will be eligible for parole in just eight years.

“The DWI laws are just not sufficient," said Joe Crigler, father of Payton Francis. "They’re not. There’s thousands of kids killed each year from alcohol-related deaths."

“I’m very upset about it," said McKenzie Maxwell, sister of crash victim Jasmine Maxwell. "I think he deserves a lifetime because he killed four innocent people. I’m so angry and sad about it. I have a lot of mixed emotions."

Payton Francis was a six-year-old Kindergarten student at Somerville Elementary. His cousin Jasmine Maxwell and her boyfriend Chase Sowders were a couple in love.

And rodeo star Justin Richard was a close family friend considered an uncle.

The loss of these innocents has left the Somerville community in pain, their lives were taken too soon.