Rep. Joe Moreno killed in accident
Rep. Rafael Anchía and staff member of another representative hurt in one-car crash in Fayette County
By Tony Plohetski, Mike Ward
Friday, May 06, 2005
Texas State Rep. Joe Ernest Moreno died early today in a one-car accident on Texas 71 in Fayette County; a second state representative and the chief of a staff for a third representative were injured.
Texas Department of Public Safety officials said Moreno, the 40-year-old Houston Democrat, died around 2 a.m. at the scene of the accident between Ellinger and LaGrange. Moreno is the first state lawmaker to die during a legislative session since 2003 when Rep. Irma Rangel, D-Kingsville, died of a brain tumor.
State Rep. Rafael Anchía, 36, D-Dallas, was taken to Brackenridge Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. Monica Lisa Piñon, 28, the chief of staff for State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, was in the back seat of the truck and also was taken to Brackenridge Hospital with broken bones. She is currently in surgery reportedly is in fair condition.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Rick Perry said Moreno served his community "with great dedication and integrity. Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe's family and friends during this difficult time. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him."
Perry also said he is praying for a "full and speedy" recovery for Anchía and Piñon.
DPS investigators said Moreno was driving west on Texas 71 when the 2004 pickup truck veered onto the shoulder. Moreno apparently overcorrected and the truck swerved into a ditch and rolled over several times.
House speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said today that the group had been in Houston for the Houston Rockets game against the Dallas Mavericks, which had a scheduled 8:30 p.m. start time Thursday. Anchía was reportedly a loyal Mavericks fan.
State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said he also had been invited to go with the group Thursday but declined. Strama said he would issue a statement about the invitation later today.
"We are in shock this morning," Craddick said shortly after returning to the Capitol from Brackenridge Hospital. "Nothing can prepare you for the sudden loss of someone that you see and talk with every day. Joe was a young man with a bright future who early on distinguished himself in his district and in the House.
"This has been a discouraging and heartbreaking morning in which I have prayed for everyone involved," Craddick added. "We are grateful that Rafael and Monica are OK, but my wife, Nadine, and I are so grieved for the loss of Joe and for what his family must now face."
Craddick said he went to hospital last night with his chief of staff, Nancy Fisher, and stayed with Anchía until his wife arrived.
"We in the House consider ourselves a large family and, as a family, we experience both tragedy and joy," Craddick said on the House floor this morning. "As a family we will all mourn the passing of our friend Joe."
Initially, Craddick said this morning the House planned to meet today — and to host a wedding ceremony for Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, on the floor — to honor Moreno's memory. But after hearing criticism from at least one veteran member, Craddick reverse course and adjourned legislative business until Monday.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, recalled a day late in the 1973 legislative session when the House skipped a day of business to honor Rep. Hawkins Menecee, a freshman legislator killed in a highway accident.
"I hope the administration, the leadership of this House will remember what we did in 1973," she said.
At the Capitol, news of the fatal accident drew an immediate reaction. By 8 a.m., callers and well-wishers already were stopping by the offices of Moreno, Anchía and Pickett to express condolences.
As the House convened at 9 a.m., two large bouquets of yellow roses were placed on Moreno's desk. Nearly two dozen house members, heads bowed, and several crying softly, gathered around. Several prayed, others hugged and quietly expressed condolences.
"He was such a talented, young man. It always happens to the best ones," said state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. "We will work to keep his spirit alive. God gave him a big frame because he had a big heart. He will be very much missed."
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, placed a single red rose on Moreno's desk. She stood silently for a few minutes, head bowed.
Craddick said that Anchía has been released from the hospital but that Piñon's broken bones made her condition more serious.
Pickett said Piñon had told him Thursday that two House members had invited her to the game. Pickett said she asked for permission to go.
Moreno was elected in November 1998 to represent House District 143 and is serving his fourth term in the House.
According to his biography, he has been involved for many years in the Harris County Tejano Democrats and the League of United Latin American Citizens Council.
He lived in Denver Harbor, and his district also included the Houston suburbs of Magnolia, Manchester, Jacinto City and parts of Pasadena.
During this year's session, Moreno was part of a group of lawmakers attempting to hit the petrochemical industry with fines and injunctions for hazardous air emissions. The effort was defeated Tuesday after they failed to get sufficient support for four amendments to toughen laws governing pollution releases.
Anchía was elected in November 2004 to represent District 103.
He began his public service in Dallas, where he was twice elected to the Dallas school board. A graduate of Southern Methodist University and Tulane law school, he is an attorney with the law firm of Patton Boggs.
Anchía lives in the Dallas community of North Oak Cliff with his wife, Marissa, and daughter, Sofia.