HOUSTON – Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office are considering the use of an internal review and ask witnesses to submit their stories anonymously to investigate a fatal traffic accident in 2012 that ripped through the city’s second largest park, taking the lives of two men and injuring five others.
A request for an investigation by the office became public Wednesday in documents filed with the Texas attorney general.
Sheriff’s officials said last year that there was no evidence a crime had been committed. At the time, the incident was characterized as a “tragic accident” and had been ruled a “noncriminal fatality accident” by the Harris County sheriff’s office.
But Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg asked her prosecutors to review the case following an update from the Harris County Medical Examiner in December, according to the records.
Ogg requested documents and witness statements from the Harris County sheriff’s office related to the October 2012 accident, and the medical examiner performed an autopsy on three men, who died within hours of the crash.
The attorneys for the families of Benny San Antonio, 39, and Justin Torres, 29, are asking for the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the case.
Torres and San Antonio were hit while riding a motorcycle in Astroworld at about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, 2012. Friends on the motorcycle also were injured in the crash, and suffered burns. Torres, who was not wearing a helmet, died at a hospital. San Antonio died a few days later.
The victims had been riding around the amusement park’s cones before hitting the bump in a dirt lot, according to court documents. The accident was originally classified as a “property accident” and sheriff’s officials said they were working to determine who might have been at fault.
An investigation by the sheriff’s office’s internal affairs office concluded that deputies who had been walking or biking in the lot at the time were not liable for the accident. The investigation also found that no one on the park’s grounds or on a private property adjacent to the lot were the “cause or contributing factor” of the accident.
But the survivors and some of the victims’ relatives believe the deputies who had been walking in the lot and were in the path of the vehicle should have stepped in to warn the cyclists.
The two deputies who were walking in the lot were not the ones involved in the accident, officials with the sheriff’s office said. The deputy standing guard over the perimeter of the park was the driver, the sheriff’s office has said. Another deputy who had parked the vehicle was at a different location. The seven other deputies who were involved in the pedestrian patrol in the parking lot did not walk into the path of the vehicle, officials said.
People on the ground who witnessed the accident “described the wheel striking them, knocking them off their feet, and knocking down multiple others,” according to a filing in Harris County Superior Court.
Bill Stabler, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said last week that two deputies who were in the area near the lot the night of the accident were involved in the investigation and could testify. But Stabler said in a statement that “the investigation will still continue until we do find the true perpetrator or perpetrators.”
Stabler, in a text message, said he had nothing further to add.
The witnesses told investigators that a white Ford SUV was in the area of the lot just before the accident occurred. One witness said that prior to the accident, he saw a man drop something off a lawn chair and said a man walked toward him holding something, according to court documents. The witness said he passed a black motorcycle that he saw go over the edge of the lot, according to the document.
According to the documents, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy said the victims were killed by blunt force trauma.
Harris County officials said Tuesday that they would continue to evaluate the case while the office has no clients affected by the accident.
Texas law prohibits lawyers from publicizing what happens during investigations until an attorney is paid. The law does, however, allow some exceptions, such as when a significant investigative issue is an ongoing criminal or civil proceeding.