Austin it is a sad day, as this crash happened during an internationally recognized event that our City is famous for and embraces as a robust boost to our economy. This is horrible for the families, the survivors, their friends, loved ones, those injured, those who will suffer and struggle to rehabilitate.
There is a subtext, one that needs and deserves discussion. As Austinites we know that there is an inconsistency about enforcement of drug and alcohol driving violations, especially those involving serious bodily injury and death. As an Austin DWI accident attorney and car accident injury attorney, it pains me to see these inconsistencies play out.
Our city wholeheartedly embraces a drinking atmosphere and culture. We have virtually no public transportation to speak of after midnight and very little for those after “Happy Hours”. There is almost no municipally supported program that would assist a drunk driver. Okay, well that is another topic because this perpetrator was driving a stolen car and probably would not have ended up on our burgeoning light rail had we an effective one. Yet, what did happen? What was said? Why is it important?
When Chief Acevedo spoke at today’s conference about the #SXSWcrash about the officer that gave chase to the suspected drunk driver, Chief Acevedo mentioned the officer was part of the “STEP” program.
In this article from 2006 in policechiefmagazine.org, we found this explanation of what a “step” officer is….
“The DWI Task Force focused on areas where offenses were likely to occur and during peak hours when impaired driving was most prevalent. Task force officers worked as two-person units. Two teams patrolled Sunday through Wednesday nights, and four teams worked Thursday through Saturday. On Saturday night, officers hired through the DWI Traffic Selective Enforcement Pro-gram (STEP) supplemented the teams.” http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=974&issue_id=82006
The Step program seems to be a program that brings in additional coverage officers for DWI enforcement. Let’s hear more about this program. Let’s hear more about official policies of APD. Yes, there is definitively one person who did very bad acts and those bad acts were the proximate cause of great bodily injury and death. That man has been apprehended.
Interestingly, the community is hearing Chief Acevedo, not the District Attorney, make claims that this person will be prosecuted for capital murder? Really? Manslaughter, no, that is not what he said. He said, Capital Murder. That would be novel at best and probably the wrong charge but we will leave that to the District Attorney, since that is their province. Yet, we know similar egregious acts are still listed as misdemeanors, such as when Stephen Gilbert ran over Cody Johnson from behind, killing him, registering a BAC over .08% and over 18 months have passed and there is not even an indictment. In Austin, our DWI injury attorneys and car accident injury lawyers are sadly familiar with these kinds of cases. Indictments can be made on ham sandwiches, an often quoted line from every first year criminal law class throughout the land.
What raises some additional pause of course is the circumstances involving this crash. The chase, the actual decision to chase a drunk driver past a barricaded street, into a crowd of people. Is this against APD policy?
Was this a trained officer? Do the STEP officers know APD policy on when to give chase? When not to give chase? Was the crash, the two killed, the 23 injured a forseeable event in light of the circumstances? And moreover, was it preventable?
As personal injury attorneys practicing DWI accident law and car accident injury cases in Austin, we’re tired of seeing these tragedies occur. Let’s push for a transparent government. Let’s push for consistent charges, sentencing, and let’s let the public know what happens when you break the law, drive drunk, choose to put others lives in peril.