Family clashes with woman accused of murdering South African surgeon in courtroom


SAN ANTONIO – All eyes and cameras in the room were on her. It would have been understandable if she had sounded nervous, but her hands didn’t shake and her voice remained strong, even as she stood outside a crowded Bexar County courtroom.

Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz believes her husband was with her when she confronted the woman who killed him.

“I see my husband and I can feel it. I sometimes feel him holding my hand at night. I think he was there in the courtroom, ”Vasquez-Kayruz said.

Dr Naji Kayruz, 58, was killed in an accident in February 2019. He was cycling along the I-10 access road near Leon Springs when Melissa Peoples, 49, swerved into the road. bike path and hit it.

Peoples was charged with manslaughter after Kayruz’s death. It was a moment, an accident and a tragedy that changed a family forever.

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Naji Kayruz’s son, Anthony, was in New York when he discovered him. Almost three years later, he’s still clinging to things that remind him of his father.

“I wear her wedding ring around my neck every day,” said Anthony Kayruz.

He wears the ring on a chain around his neck, a constant reminder of his father. A ringtone and the snapshots of smiling family Anthony keeps on his phone make it clear what a drunk driver has taken away.

“We have all of these memories and we have all of these reminders. But what are they doing? It reminds us that we don’t want memories. We want my dad, ”Anthony said.

Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz lost her husband for 25 years that night, Anthony lost his father, Walid Keyrouz lost his twin brother. Dr. Naji Kayruz was one of San Antonio’s most renowned robotic surgeons, an avid cyclist and a lost loved one.

“You don’t find men like that. You know, they’re very, very rare, kind, talented, generous. He loved surgery. Oh my God, he loved the surgery, ”Sandra said.

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“You are the one who learns to deal with the pain, but you alone learn how to deal with the pain. The pain does not go away. You take the pain everywhere with you, ”said Walid Keyrouz, brother of Dr Naji Kayruz, who spells his last name in traditional French.

These are the emotions that the three members of the Kayruz family took with them into the courtroom, face to face with Melissa Peoples, with the memories of what she did that night in February 2019 in their minds. The family said his blood alcohol level that evening was two and a half times the legal limit.

“He saved lives… you took a life. He would have stopped and rescued. You left the place and tortured us for three years until the deadline for a plea bargain, ”said Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz, reading a written statement.

Melissa Peoples has agreed to a plea bargain. A guilty plea in exchange for 15 years in prison, eligible for parole in less than four. The Kayruz family disagrees with the deal.

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“It permeated the entire Lebanese medical cycling community. And I’m just disappointed, ”said Sandra Vasquez-Kayruz.

“We are always contacting the victims to get their opinion. This is not the final decision as to what kind of advocacy offer we will make, but their contribution is certainly very important to us, ”said Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales.

Gonzales said his office is always looking to improve, especially when it comes to the families of the victims. Gonzales is also very clear when it comes to drunk driving crashes that result in the death of an individual. He said laws need to be changed and sentences increased, for families like the Kayruz and others.

“It’s a heartbreaking situation and my heart goes out to the family because obviously nothing we do is ever going to bring the doctor back,” Gonzales said.

The district attorney also pointed out that when Melissa Peoples qualifies for parole and when she gets parole, it can be two very different things.

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Gonzalez said that according to statistics from the Texas Parole Board, people who have been convicted of the same crime as Peoples typically serve 75 to 80 percent of their sentence. This means that peoples may be eligible in less than four years, but most people convicted of similar crimes serve a sentence of at least 10 years.

These are numbers that can change what the Kayruz think about the plea deal, but it doesn’t alleviate the pain, a pain they hope others never have to endure.

“I hope people don’t hear this story, then go to the next channel and get on with their day. On the contrary, I hope that people can take a second of their day and think about what this loss means, what it would mean if they were in our shoes and try to internalize that in their daily life ”, he said. declared Anthony Kayruz.

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