HOUSTON (FOX 26) - A Houston police officer is in stable but critical condition after he was struck by an SUV on the Southwest Freeway early this morning. Officer Nestor Garcia's parents and two younger brothers are at the hospital by his side. The 24-year-old Houston police officer, only on the job one year, suffered severe fractures and trauma to his head and abdomen. After several hours of surgery the officer is now in ICU, all because investigators say a 79-year-old chose to get behind the wheel impaired.
"When we started this morning I can just tell you I thought we would be having a much different press conference," says Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo. Officer Garcia's injuries from being run over were so severe, it wasn't clear if he would survive.
"Despite the very violent crash he had, he's holding on. He's not out of the woods. There's still concern about the head injury," says the Chief.
Officer Garcia and two other Houston police officers had stopped the driver of a stolen vehicle on the Southwest Freeway near Hazard Street around 2 a.m. With overhead police lights flashing, the officers were out of their cruisers conducting the traffic stop. That's when detectives say 79-year-old Robert Zimmerman slammed into officer Garcia at 60 mph, dragging the officer down the highway.
Zimmerman is charged with intoxication assault of a public servant. The District Attorney hasn't released whether Zimmerman is alleged to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"What type of intoxication remains to be seen. That's really not the point. The point is anybody driving this recklessly in Houston is going to be arrested and prosecuted," says Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.
"To impaired drivers out there, find a way home. Don't get behind that wheel because then we have incidents like this and it's heartbreaking," says Doug Griffith with the Houston Police Officer's Union .
Officer Garcia was left with internal bleeding, bone fractures and severe abdominal and head injuries. "He has opened his eyes. He has responded. He's given a thumbs up but he continues to be in critical but stable condition," says Chief Acevedo.
"Just keep him in your prayers," adds Griffith.
"We want to pray not only that he lives, but he has a quality of life," the chief says. Officer Garcia has had to have several blood transfusions and will likely need more. So Chief Acevedo is also asking Houstonians to donate blood to the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Officer Garcia's name.
The 24-year-old is said to be a great guy. In fact, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was one of his references when the officer applied to HPD.
As for 79-year-old Robert Zimmerman, he does not appear to have a criminal record, other than a traffic ticket, until now.