‘We have filed six felony charges of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon against the juvenile,’ district attorney says
A 16-year-old Texan boy has been charged with several felony counts after he reportedly hit a group of cyclists with his pickup truck as he tried to cover them in exhaust fumes.
The District Attorney of Waller County, Texas wrote on Facebook on Monday that the teen “drove his truck into six bicyclists that were training” on 25 September.
“We have filed six felony charges of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon against the juvenile in question, one charge for each cyclist that was injured,” the office added.
The District Attorney said “the juvenile voluntarily surrendered himself” on Monday and that he will be held in the custody of the juvenile justice department “until further orders of the juvenile court”.
Four of the cyclists were taken to hospital after being hit by the teen, whose identity has not been made public.
After the incident, the driver was neither charged nor cited by police responding to the scene. Victims and witnesses said he had antagonised the cyclists on purpose.
The driver’s lawyer, Rick DeToto, said in a statement to The Washington Post that the teenager and his family had nothing to say about the incident “due to the confidentiality laws surrounding juvenile cases”.
“My client and his family continue to pray for the quick recovery of the injured bikers,” Mr DeToto wrote.
Law enforcement’s handling of the case has caused outrage in Houston and the surrounding area of southern Texas.
At about 11.30am on 25 September, a group of eight people were training for the Ironman Texas triathlon when a black Ford pickup truck turned into their lane and sped ahead of them, according to one of the cyclists.
The teen driver reportedly speeded up and blew black exhaust smoke onto the bikers in a manoeuvre referred to as “roll coal”. It’s when diesel pickup truck drivers purposefully covers walkers, cyclists, or other drivers in black smoke from their exhaust.
But this time, the driver got too close and hit all but two of the eight cyclists. Chase Ferrell, who was riding close to the group of cyclists who were hit, told KRIV that he “heard a lot of crunching” and “tires screeching”.
“I thought someone was dead,” he said. Mr Ferrell said the driver stopped the truck and exited the vehicle following the crash.
“Do you think I’m going to jail?” The teen reportedly asked others at the scene. Mr Ferrell said he told the teenager that he had done “something really freaking stupid”.
“You should go to jail,” he added. The 16-year-old was not arrested despite that four of the cyclists had to be taken to hospital. His parents arrived and the police allowed him to leave after they had questioned him, prompting fierce criticism.
Some in the area noted that Victor Tome was sentenced to life in prison without parole for capital murder earlier this year after he killed two cyclists in 2017 when he purposefully drove into a group of riders.
Mr DeToto told CHRON in late September that “my client is a young man in high school with college aspirations. He’s a very new and inexperienced driver. This was a serious accident but did not involve any criminal intent. He immediately called 911, helped with the injured and cooperated with police. The family prays for the speedy recovery of the riders involved and we look forward to cooperating with investigators”.
He told KPRC that “the police did an investigation at the scene. This included speaking with eyewitnesses to the accident. After their investigation, they decided not to charge my client and did not even issue him a traffic ticket. Clearly, they determined a crime had not occurred”.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis interviewed witnesses and victims for six weeks and worked with a crash reconstruction expert to investigate why the teen crashed into the cyclists.
Mr Mathis said his office also investigated if there was any “criminal interference” between the teen’s parents and law enforcement. The family is well-known in the area and own several businesses. The District Attorney also criticised police for not handling the crash site like they would treat a crime scene, The Washington Post reported.
Waller Police Chief Bill Llewellyn told The Houston Chronicle that officers had “mishandled” the scene, but he rejected the idea that the status of the driver’s family had affected the actions of the officers.
Just days before the District Attorney announced the charges, a Houston driver went free after a deadly crash involving cross country cyclists, in which a Massachusetts man was killed and six others were injured.
The prosecutors said they wished the injured cyclists “the speediest of recoveries on their long journey ahead, and remind everyone to share the roads, obey the traffic laws, and to treat each other with the respect that we all deserve”.