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40 Minutes Ago Investigation: Drunk driver's friend recounts the day of the crash

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Pedro Rodriguez rented a bedroom from Ascencion and Anna Acuna for about two years. Pedro Rodriguez rented a bedroom from Ascencion and Anna Acuna for about two years.
MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) -

We're learning more about the man who caused a fatal drunk driving crash in August of 2011.

According to Department of Public Safety records, 62-year-old Pedro Rodriguez was killed when he drove into oncoming traffic on Interstate 20 and hit another vehicle head on. The victim in that other vehicle was 42-year-old Kevin Jones. Both men died at the scene.

An autopsy showed that Jones had no alcohol in his system when he was killed. In a startling discovery, Jones' family learned that a DPS trooper had stopped the drunk driver, Rodriguez, just 40 minutes before the wreck. In dash camera video from that stop, you see the trooper try to communicate with Rodriguez for about 10 minutes. It's clear that there's a language barrier between the two men. Eventually, the trooper tells Rodriguez he "doesn't care" if Rodriguez sleeps on the side of the road. Dash camera video shows the trooper walk away after telling Rodriguez not to drive.

The family of the victim, Kevin Jones, brought this story to us in looking for answers. They've filed a lawsuit against DPS. But, they've always wondered if Rodriguez's family knew that law enforcement had pulled Rodriguez over and then did not stop him from getting back on the road.

The DPS crash report stated that Rodriguez was separated from his wife and had no other family in the United States. However, our own investigating revealed that was not the case. Rodriguez lived inside a small Marshall home and led a simple life. He rented a bedroom from Ascencion and Anna Acuna for about two years.

"He'd just come in, take a shower, cook and he'd go to his room. He'd never bother anybody. Maybe [he'd] leave and go to the store and buy his groceries and come back home. That was it," recalls Anna Acuna.

Acuna took us back to that day in August when Rodriguez chose to get behind the wheel after he'd been drinking. "His girlfriend called him on the phone and he was going to go to Longview, but his friends told him 'Don't go to Longview because you're drinking,'" Acuna says.

She says Rodriguez had been drinking on the hill behind their home with his friends. When he left to run an errand, they thought he'd be right back.

"He told us he was going to go cash his check and come back and pay the rent money. We were wondering where he was, and he never came back. The police officer came to our house and told us he just got killed," says Acuna. It's a day that Acuna remembers vividly.

"I just... when my husband told me, I just fell to the floor because I lost a good friend," Acuna says through tears.

Rodriguez worked as a dish washer at Golden Corral in Marshall. However, a manager says he doesn't know for sure if Rodriguez had worked there back in 2011. However, it didn't take long for our investigation to lead us to a quiet street just down the road from Rodriguez's last known address.

According to the DPS crash report, Rodriguez had no family in the United States, except for his wife who he was no longer living with when he died. But in one Marshall neighborhood, we found Rodriguez's children, grandchildren and other family members. They did not want to speak on camera, but say they had no idea that Rodriguez was stopped before the fatal crash.

"Maybe that night when he went to the club to visit his girlfriend, he just got excited and started drinking real bad and heavy," speculates Acuna.

Those who know Rodriguez know that he was the one who chose to drive drunk, and he was the one responsible for the crash that ended two lives. However, that doesn't mean they're not hurting from his loss and the decisions that he made. Rodriguez's friends and family say they wish he'd gone to jail that night because then both he and Kevin Jones might still be alive today.

Acuna says that she spoke with Rodriguez in Spanish because Spanish was his first language, but she says she thinks he knew enough English to get by.

According to Gregg County judicial records, Rodriguez had one DWI conviction from a 2007 arrest. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 15 months community supervision. Then, Rodriguez was arrested for DWI again in November of 2010. That case ended up being dismissed because he died before his final court hearing.

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