“The bridge is higher than I thought.” Those might possibly be the last words of convicted Brownsville attorney Ray Marchan, speaking to a taxi cab driver as he exited the cab and dived to his death from the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge early Thursday morning.
The cab driver said he had not anticipated Marchan’s actions and expressed disbelief in an interview with The Brownsville Herald just hours after Marchan jumped from the rail and into the Laguna Madre to his death.
“He threw himself in on purpose. I don’t understand how people do that to themselves. I’ve never seen anything like that,” cab driver Lorenzo Hernandez said. “He threw himself over, the moment it happened I stood up immediately.”
It took more than 12 hours to recover Marchan’s body from the waters Thursday, the same day he was to report to prison on a federal racketeering conviction.
Marchan was to report to a federal prison in Fort Worth Thursday to begin serving a 42-month sentence on racketeering charges. A federal jury in June found Marchan guilty on all seven counts of racketeering, aiding, extortion, and mail fraud in connection with the case of former State District Judge Abel C. Limas.
An acquittal was issued on the mail fraud case but the other charges were upheld. Marchan had filed an appeal.
Most recently, Marchan had sought to remain free on an emergency bond pending the results of his appeal and the temporary continuation of his bond pending appeal “until requested records and transcripts are obtained in support for review,” records show.
However, on Wednesday — the day before Marchan dived off the bridge — a U.S. Circuit judge denied that appeal.
Deputy Chief Gus Reyna of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department said Marchan’s body was found at 5:15 p.m. near boating channels in Port Isabel commonly known as The Fingers.
It is not immediately known if Marchan’s body suffered any trauma. An autopsy is expected to be ordered.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Brownsville Fire Department dive team searched the waters for most of the day after they received the report that Marchan had gone off the bridge.
At a press conference, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said a taxi cab driver picked up a man at Marchan’s house on Fireside Drive in Brownsville just after 3 a.m. Thursday.
The passenger asked to be driven to South Padre Island, Hernandez told The Brownsville Herald.
According to Hernandez, on the way to the Island his passenger complained of nausea and asked him to pull over so he could vomit. However, when Hernandez first tried to pull over to the side of the road, the man urged him to drive a bit farther and then stopped him on the bridge.
That’s when Marchan commented about the height of the bridge
and exited the cab, Hernandez said. Hernandez told the passenger to be careful because the wind was strong, cautioning him not to lose his footing on the bridge.
“I thought he was going to vomit into the water, but instead he stood up on there,” Hernandez said.
The man lifted himself up onto the railing and dove into the Laguna Madre, the cab driver added.
The Coast Guard’s nearby South Padre Island Station received a call at 4:15 a.m. that a man had jumped off the bridge and disappeared into the waters of the Laguna Madre between Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
According to the Cameron County Tax Assessor and Collector’s Office, Marchan owed $73,857.74 in back taxes on his home at the time of his death. The taxes date back to five years, officials said.
Carlos Rodriguez, a supervisor at the tax office, said the county filed a lawsuit against Marchan in 2010 demanding that he pay the taxes owed or forfeit his home to the county. That lawsuit is pending.
For much of Thursday, authorities exercised caution, saying they could not confirm Marchan was dead until a body had been found.
If Marchan’s body had not been found Thursday, a warrant for his arrest for failure to surrender to a federal prison had been expected to be issued as soon as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons notified a federal judge that Marchan had not arrived at prison, authorities said.
“If a warrant gets issued, we don’t stop (looking) until there is a body. We are still looking for the guys that escaped from Alcatraz,” said Alfredo Perez, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Office for the Southern District of Texas.
Though Marchan had been scheduled to report to federal prison Thursday, he had not been disbarred from his profession, according to sources. As a practicing attorney since May 1983, he had been appealing his conviction and therefore could not be disbarred, said Kim Bueno, public affairs administrator for Chief Disciplinary Counsels Office of the State Bar of Texas.
The Disciplinary Counsels Office had filed an interlocutory suspension against Marchan requesting that he be suspended until his criminal appeal is final. A hearing on the issue had been scheduled for April 8.
If his appeal in the criminal case was rejected, the DCO would have moved forward to get Marchan disbarred.
“Under our rules disbarment is proper if there is any type of prison or jail sentence,” Bueno said.