Pedestrian killed in crash with Houston Police Department officer for third time in three weeks

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office says each case will be referred to a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against any of the involved officers.

Houston Police Department
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Houston Police Department patrol vehicle

A woman was struck and killed by a Houston Police Department officer as he responded to a call early Tuesday morning, marking the third time in less than three weeks that a pedestrian died in a collision with an on-duty officer employed by the city.

The latest crash occurred shortly after midnight in the 11500 block of the Southwest Freeway access road, near Wilcrest Drive, according to HPD Assistant Chief Wyatt Martin, who told reporters at the scene that a Hispanic woman believed to be in her 40s “stepped off the curb and was struck by the patrol car.” Martin said the police officer driving the vehicle, a man with about two years of experience with HPD, was traveling to another location to assist with a double shooting but had not activated his emergency lights or sirens.

“It’s just a tragic situation,” said Martin, who added that the woman might have been homeless, citing a witness.

As with the other pedestrian fatalities on Jan. 4 and Dec. 30, per HPD policy when an officer is involved in the death of a community member, Martin said the two HPD officers in the patrol vehicle Tuesday are being placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of an investigation. It is unclear whether the officers involved in the other recent crashes remain on administrative duty. HPD spokesperson Victor Senties said Tuesday he could not review an officer’s status without being given that officer’s name, although none of the involved officers’ identities have been released by the department.

Suzanne Garofalo, a spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said each of the three cases will be presented to a grand jury to determine whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges against the involved officers.

“Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret, and we have no information about when the hearings would take place,” she added.

Senties said he could not comment on the cases or provide details about them, citing ongoing internal affairs investigations. He instead referred to departmental news releases about the crashes as well as media briefings provided by officers at the scenes of the collisions.

“We’re not putting out any kind of statement at this point,” Senties said.

After the first recent pedestrian fatality involving an HPD officer, at about 2 a.m. Dec. 30 on the East Freeway near Lathrop Street, HPD Assistant Chief Ernest Garcia told reporters at the scene that a male officer was en route to a non-emergency call when he “felt a bump,” had his airbags deploy and stopped to see what had happened. The officer discovered he had struck and killed a man estimated to be about 30 years old, according to Garcia, who said pedestrians should not attempt to cross freeways, “especially at night with limited lighting.”

Another HPD officer responding to a non-emergency call struck and killed 24-year-old Caleb Swafford late Jan. 4 as he was walking across Aldine Bender Road near Lee Road, just west of the Eastex Freeway, according to multiple news reports. Senties said that crash is being investigated by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which did not immediately respond to a Tuesday email seeking more information.

Under Mayor Sylvester Turner, first elected in 2015, Houston has adopted a “Vision Zero” goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities by 2030.

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