Mary Merlino Killed, Justin Benton, Canette Fry, Tyler Elkhatib, 1 Injured in Car Accident in Anderson County, TX
Anderson County, TX — January 27, 2024, Mary Merlino was killed, Justin Benton, Canette Fry, Tyler Elkhatib, and another injured, in a car accident along U.S. 287.
According to authorities, the crash took place at around 6:18 p.m. in the area of the U.S. Highway 287 and Highway 294 intersection, just east of Elkhart.
Officials said that 22-year-old Mary Merlino was in a Ford Taurus driven by 23-year-old Justin Benton. They were going northbound on U.S. 287. 48-year-old Canette Fry and 18-year-old Tyler Elkhatib were said to be in a southbound Honda Accord. As the vehicles approached each other, authorities say that a Chevy Silverado also going southbound collided with the rear-end of Fry's Honda Accord. The collision caused the Honda to swerve into oncoming traffic where it collided with Benton and Merlino's vehicle.
Due to the crash, Mary Merlino sustained fatal injuries. Justin Benton, Canette Fry, and Tyler Elkhatib all reportedly had serious injuries due to the crash.
Through further investigations, authorities say they determined that the driver of the Chevy was allegedly drunk and under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident. Authorities recommended the driver be charged for intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault.
My concern with stories like this one is whether or not authorities are putting too much focus on just one aspect of the crash and letting something important slip through the cracks. Let me explain what I mean. When I see any crash involving alcohol, one of my first questions is, "Where did the driver get their alcohol?" A lot of times, the answer leads to the discovery that a local bar or some other establishment over-served the driver, and they, too, need to face consequences.
But when there are multiple serious allegations against a driver accused of causing a crash, authorities can get tunnel vision. They get so caught up in charging that one "bad guy" (understandably so) that they completely forget to consider the possibility there's an accomplice out there getting off scot-free. That's just not right.
Let me put it another way. Over the decades, I've helped hundreds of families harmed due to the actions of a drunk driver and a negligent alcohol provider who over-served the driver. When they called us, they did so because they wanted to be sure every possible step was being taken to see there were consequences for the people responsible for harming them. Sometimes, our investigations ended up being alongside the authorities who were already pursuing charges against a negligent alcohol provider. Other times, the only reason authorities found a negligent bar was because we brought it to their attention.
That's why I never forget those situations where authorities, for one reason or another, missed something as important as a complicit alcohol provider following a deadly wreck. As important as it is for negligent drivers to be held accountable in these situations, alcohol providers have laws to follow, too. Every family I can recall working with that learned about these laws had the same question: What steps can be taken to make sure their actions don't get anyone else killed?