A Houston police officer who was supposed to spend Christmas with his parents in California this week was instead "fighting for his life" as he recovers from surgeries for severe burns suffered in a crash that was allegedly caused by a drunken driver, according to reports.
Officer John Daily, 25, suffered second- and third-degree burns to his arms, legs, face, stomach and chest in the Monday morning crash, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“They’re making sure to remove any of the damaged tissue, so that they’ll eventually be able to put grafts on them,” Houston police union President Joe Gamaldi told the newspaper. “Officer Daily is fighting through this recovery.”
The suspect allegedly plowed his vehicle into a patrol SUV that Daily was driving just hours before he was set to fly out to visit his family, according to reports.
Daily's partner, Officer Alonzo Reid, suffered less severe burns and was released from a hospital on Christmas Day, reports said.
As of Wednesday, Daily was heavily sedated and not talking, Gamaldi told Houston's KPRC-TV.
The suspect, Cesar Collazo, was a block from his home early Monday when his Lincoln Navigator struck the Chevy Tahoe with the officers inside as they were on their way to assist another officer, prosecutors said. Collazo allegedly pulled in front of them while trying to turn, causing the police vehicle to flip several times and catch on fire.
"You have caused serious pain to families, and I just thank the Lord that my son is still alive," Lisa Malone, Officer Alonzo Reid's mother, told Houston's KTRK-TV.
A bystander pulled Reid out of the burning vehicle and they both pulled Daily out afterward.
Collazo told police his brother-in-law was driving the SUV, but eyewitnesses said he was the only person in the vehicle, the Chronicle reported.
Both officers have been with the Houston Police Department for just over a year.
"Our officer is supposed to be flying home to see his mother and father in California ... but instead of going to see his family they're going to come here because they got a call nobody should get," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said during a Christmas Eve news briefing. "And that's that their 25-year-old vibrant son who is just starting his career with the Houston Police Department is in here fighting for his life."
"John's a tough guy," Daily's father, Olen Daily, said at the news conference. "He'll get through this."
Police said Collazo, 23, drove away from the scene and was arrested minutes later. Prosecutors said his blood alcohol level was .157, almost twice the legal limit.
“Per numerous versions of his events of the night, he had been drinking throughout the day. We have receipts that confirm part of his day drinking. We are actively looking for the rest of the receipts,” said Sean Teare, division chief of the Harris County Vehicular Crimes Unit.
Collazo is charged with two counts each of intoxication, assault of a peace officer and failure to stop and render aid after causing serious bodily injury, which is the official charge for a hit-and- run. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors are also investigating the La Michoacana Meat Market to determine if Collazo bought beer there the evening of the crash.
Collazo told a judge he is a Mexican citizen and has been in the United States legally on a work visa. Prosecutors said the visa expires Dec. 31.
He is being held in Harris County jail on $250,000 bond.