A Galveston Island Beach Patrol lifeguard died Tuesday morning, hours after he was hit by a car on a dark Galveston street not far from Seawall Boulevard.
Police arrested the driver of the car that hit him and charged her with intoxication assault.
Marco Antonio Pena Beltran, 23, had just recently graduated from the beach patrol’s lifeguard academy, beach patrol Chief Peter Davis said in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon.
He was from Colombia and was one of a group of young people who work for the beach patrol during the summer using a J-1 visa, a type of temporary work permit.
“He was part of our family,” Davis said
The crash happened at 10:10 p.m. near the intersection of 69th Street and Weiss Road, about four blocks from Seawall Boulevard. Beltran was riding a bicycle side-by-side with four other people south, toward the seawall, when he was struck from behind by a car turning off of Weiss Road.
The car struck Beltran and another 23-year-old man, who police did not immediately name. The unnamed man suffered a broken arm and other less serious injuries, police said. They were both rushed to the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Beltran died about 6:30 a.m.
The driver of the car was arrested at the scene of the crash, police said.
Gerilyn Weberlein, 50, of Galveston, was charged with intoxication assault, according to the police department. She was held on $100,000 bond and was still at the Galveston County Jail on Tuesday afternoon.
The charge against Weberlein could be upgraded because of Beltran's death, Galveston Police Department spokesman Capt. Joshua Schirard said.
Police did take a blood sample from Weberlein while at the scene. It was not immediately clear where she was coming from before the crash, Schirard said.
Beltran's death is the first reported fatal bicycle crash in Galveston since 2014. Local officials have made some efforts to improve bicycle safety on the island in recent years, including painting bike paths on some major roadways. The intersection where the crash happened does not have bike lanes and is poorly lit, police said.
None of the bicyclists traveling with Beltran were riding a bike equipped with lights, Schirard said. City rules require bicyclists to have lights and reflectors while riding after dark.
Beltran was one of hundreds of young people from other countries who come to the island each summer to work under the J-1 visa program. In 2017, there were as many as 770 people with J-1 visas working in Galveston. The visa is advertised as a cultural exchange program, but it also supplies an essential workforce to the island during the summer tourism season, sources in the tourism industry have said.
While many of the people with visas work in restaurants and other tourism-related jobs, a group of Colombian natives has in recent years become fixtures on the island’s famous beach patrol.
In 2017, 15 Colombians were on the island beach patrol, Davis wrote in a column for The Daily News.
The program helps the beach patrol, which is funded through the island’s Park Board of Trustees with tourism funds, address staffing shortages, Davis wrote.
The park board is providing counseling services to its lifeguards after Beltran's death, Davis wrote in his Facebook message.
“We all know how important the job we do is,” he said. “But we need to be sure we’re OK to do that job.”