For nearly three years, Heather Guerra lived under a cloud of suspicion that she had caused the death of her 5-year-old son, Julian. For a time, she, too, wondered if she was guilty
Guerra faced charges of manslaughter and aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury after a multiple-vehicle car crash on July 8, 2020, in Baytown, Texas. Both charges were dismissed on May 19, 2023, after an expert hired by the defense produced a report exonerating Guerra.
Diana Sims, Guerra’s defense attorney, tells A&E True Crime she was “baffled” at the charges and determined to prove her client’s innocence.
“It is painfully obvious…when you review the evidence, that Heather was not guilty, and it was a rush to judgment to even charge her,” she says.
A Happy Child
Julian, who had autism and attended pre-kindergarten, was the baby of the family and beloved by all, Guerra tells A&E True Crime.
“He was full of energy, happy. He loved to be around the water, so we were always at the water parks and at the beach,” says Guerra, who also has two adult children. “We even had a little [inflatable] swimming pool for the house.”
On the afternoon of the crash, Guerra was headed to the beach at the wheel of an SUV, with Julian in the back seat and her now ex-boyfriend in the passenger seat. As she drove through a major intersection in Baytown, she collided with a pickup truck whose driver was its single occupant.
Julian, along with Guerra, her other passenger and the pickup truck’s driver, were airlifted to a hospital, where the boy was pronounced dead. The impact of the crash caused the vehicles to careen into other cars whose occupants were not injured.
Reports written by a Baytown police collision reconstructionist, who was called to investigate the crash, show inconsistencies.
In one report, the officer stated that witnesses said the pickup truck had a green light, and that the investigation found Guerra ran a red light. According to Sims, the report was written the day of the crash.
In a supplemental report, the same officer stated that, after speaking with the responding officers and all the occupants of the other vehicles, he found “there were no actual witnesses.”
The Baytown Police Department did not respond to requests for comment from A&E True Crime.
A warrant to obtain a blood draw from Guerra after the crash stated police smelled alcohol on her breath, Sims says. The blood test showed no alcohol, only a small amount of marijuana.
When Guerra was being airlifted, a bag of marijuana fell out of her pocket; she faced no charges related to that.
Guerra didn’t find out her son had died until six weeks after the crash, when she emerged from a coma and got the news from a police officer. At the time, she was shackled to her hospital bed and unable to see family because visitors are prohibited when suspects are in police custody, her lawyer says.
In total, she spent two months in the hospital. She suffered a brain injury and complications from a tracheotomy that damaged her vocal cords. She has undergone several surgeries.
Guerra says she has no recollection of the crash and initially felt she couldn’t be responsible.
“When I had Julian [in the car], I was very cautious. I didn’t go over the speed limit, and I didn’t drive through yellow lights.”
Over time, however, doubt crept in. “I thought, because I don’t have memory of the crash, maybe [the police] knew, or had evidence of, something I didn’t remember,” she says.
It was only when an independent accident reconstruction specialist hired by Sims shared his findings that Guerra could fully believe she didn’t cause her son’s death, she says.
Examining the Evidence
The state’s attorney’s office’s case included two witnesses who said Guerra was either speeding or ran a red light. However, two other witnesses say Guerra didn’t run a red light, and one person said the other driver ran a red light, Sims says.
Sims’ reconstruction specialist presented evidence in Guerra’s favor.
A crash site photo of the speedometer of Guerra’s SUV showed it was stuck at 93 miles per hour. The expert presented research showing the impact of a crash can cause gauges to shoot up and freeze at different speeds. Additionally, he determined Guerra couldn’t have reached that speed after slowing down to go over railroad tracks about 1,500 feet from the crash site.
The expert also found that data from the airbag control module of the other driver’s pickup truck showed an increase in speed as it approached the traffic light.
Sims’ expert’s report was filed May 18, 2023, a day before Guerra was due in court for a judge to set a trial date for her case. During that court appearance, all charges were dismissed.
“I am still shocked that it’s over—and it went in my favor,” Guerra says.
Grieving the Loss
The road to resolution was arduous, Sims says.
Guerra had to go to court once a month, her mother beside her each time. Barred from driving as a condition of her $90,000 bond, she had to rely on her mother to drive her back and forth to work and elsewhere. For court dates, the grieving mother and her family often wore T-shirts with a photo of Julian.
“I don’t think Heather would have really been able to get through this without the support of her family,” Sims says. “It was painful, and it was a long process to get through.”
As for why it took nearly three years for the case to be resolved, Sims attributed that to understaffing in Harris County’s vehicular crimes division along with the slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the weight of the court case is behind her, Guerra continues to mourn the loss of her son every day.
“That’s really all I think about,” she says. “From when I wake up to when I go to sleep.”