Chase Ferrell was about 75 miles into a Saturday morning bike ride when a pickup truck swerved into his lane, closing in on him and other cyclists training for the upcoming Ironman Texas triathlon. Now just feet away, the driver gunned it, spewing them with black exhaust, he said.
“I heard a lot of crunching. I heard brakes. Tires screeching,” Ferrell told KRIV. “I thought someone was dead.”
Around 11:30 a.m. Saturday, a 16-year-old driver allegedly hit the six cyclists with a black Ford pickup on a rural four-lane road about two miles west of Waller, Tex. The crash seriously injured three of the riders, who were taken to hospitals, the Waller Police Department wrote Tuesday in a statement; the three others had minor injuries that were treated at the scene.
Ferrell said that, after hitting the cyclists, the driver stopped, got out of his truck and surveyed the wreckage. Ferrell recalled telling the driver he had done “something really freaking stupid.”
“You should go to jail,” he recalled saying.
The driver didn’t. Minutes after the crash, his parents showed up. Then police arrived and, after questioning him, let him go home.
Police not charging the driver with a crime has sparked an uproar among the cycling community in the Houston area and beyond. The Waller County District Attorney’s Office promised to thoroughly review the police investigation and urged people to be patient.
Ferrell, however, is finding that difficult. “It’s just disheartening and hard to see whenever our friends are being life-flighted [to the hospital] out there, and the [alleged] perpetrator, the kid, gets to be able to go home and sleep in his own bed,” he told KTRK. “To have no injuries, to have no consequences. Seemingly, I’m sure he feels really bad, but that’s not justice. That’s not going to cut it.”
The teenager’s lawyer, Rick DeToto, described his client as “a young man in high school with college aspirations” and “a very new and inexperienced driver” in a statement to the Houston Chronicle. He said the teenager stopped immediately after hitting the cyclists, tried to help them, called 911 and cooperated with police.
In a different statement to KPRC, DeToto said the fact that police didn’t arrest his client the day of the crash means they don’t think he did anything illegal. “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 told KTRK he has assigned a senior prosecutor to the case who will work with a crash reconstructionist to figure out why the driver hit the cyclists. He plans to have his office present evidence to a grand jury sometime in the fall, with prosecutors possibly seeking an indictment for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
On Wednesday, his office released a statement saying drivers who “roll coal” are, at the very least, committing assault.
“They are causing their vehicle to ‘spit’ on a living, breathing, human being that is worthy of dignity and not having his or her person violated,” the statement from the prosecutor’s office said.
Tension between drivers and cyclists is not new in Waller County. Victor Tome killed two riders in 2017 when he intentionally plowed into a small group of them. He was convicted of capital murder and, earlier this year, sentenced to life in prison without parole, something the Waller County district attorney’s office pointed to as proof that it takes attacks on cyclists seriously.
Joe Cutrufo, executive director of the advocacy group BikeHouston, called Saturday’s crash “egregious” and said the driver should be charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon but isn’t confident Waller prosecutors will do so.
“We are afraid that if this driver gets away with it, then other drivers in Waller County, or anywhere really, will be emboldened to attack, harass and threaten cyclists because they know they can get away with it,” Cutrufo said.