Maria Chavez walked into a courtroom Tuesday morning with the aid of a cane, then began describing the January death of her only child, who was killed as they walked to a mall playground in Alexandria. Police say Victor Aldana was drunk when his car jumped a curb, flew across the grass and plowed over them.
Aldana and Chavez casually knew each other before he was charged with wounding her and killing Brian Hernandez Chavez, who was 8. On Tuesday in Alexandria Circuit Court, they appeared to avoid each other’s eyes. He stared ahead, blinking, as she testified.
“All of a sudden, a car coming from Duke Street made impact with our bodies,” Chavez said in a soft voice. “. . . Brian was standing to my side. I was holding my son’s hand.”
Before the crash, Aldana lived in an apartment on the same street as Chavez, 31, and her son. Aldana and Chavez worked near each other, she as a hotel housekeeper, he as a cashier at the fast-food restaurant next door. Sometimes, he would serve her chicken.
The morning of the Jan. 15 crash, he was at home and drank two 23-ounce cans of the alcoholic drink Four Loko, which he bought the previous night, according to police. He left his apartment to get food, he told police. Mother and son were walking to Landmark Mall to go to the indoor playground at about 2:30 p.m. when they were hit on Duke Street near Interstate 395.
Aldana didn’t realize whom he had hit until hours after the accident, when an Alexandria police officer showed him pictures of Chavez and her son.
“When he saw her photograph, his eyes started to water and he avoided eye contact,” police Officer Diana Barrett testified. “When he saw a picture of Brian, he became visibly upset.”
Public defender Jasmin Mize called the crash an accident.
“Mr. Aldana is on trial for something he never intended to happen,” Mize said. “This case is a tragedy, but not every tragedy is a crime.”
Mize said driving mistakes such as Aldana’s are common.
“We get distracted, we miss a turn,” Mize said. “Sometimes, our cars become something we can’t control.”
Chavez broke both her legs and a hip in the crash. She spent weeks in a hospital and months in a wheelchair.
Susan Coronis testified that she pulled over to the side of the road and ran over to Maria Chavez to help when she saw what had happened. Chavez was panicked and asking for her son, who was lying in the grass nearby, Coronis testified.
Because Chavez couldn’t move, the two women said the Lord’s Prayer together — Coronis in English and Chavez in Spanish.
It wasn’t until Chavez got to the hospital that she was told her son was dead.
Aldana, 22, is charged with manslaughter while driving under the influence, maiming, reckless driving and operating a vehicle without a license. Four hours after the accident, Aldana had a blood alcohol content of 0.15, almost twice the legal limit for driving, according to court testimony.
Aldana declined a jury trial, so the case is being heard by Alexandria Judge James C. Clark.
“We ask that he be held accountable for his incomprehensible actions that afternoon,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jessica Best Smith.