On the evening of Thursday, October 3, a San Antonio police officer was injured in a wrong-way high-speed chase involving the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office Thursday evening. It’s very possible the chase will be available on our TVs, since the entire chase was apparently caught on camera by producers of the TV show COPS.
According to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, said deputies from the office’s Street Crimes Unit were patrolling an area of northeast San Antonio when they noticed one driver committing a number of hazardous traffic violations. When the deputies tried to stop the car, the driver fled, driving down Austin Highway to Eisenhauer Road and then Lanark.
At one point, the driver rammed one of the sheriff’s office patrol vehicles and the driver ended up on the Interstate 35/410 southbound access road — going in the wrong direction — and crashed into another car, nearly head-on. The driver/suspect then entered the main lanes of the interstate going the wrong way and crashed into another car before jumping out of the car while it was moving, suffering facial injuries in the attempt. The passenger in the car also bailed, but he was caught after a foot chase.
According to Salazar, both suspects appear to have run due to outstanding felony warrants. The 37-year-old male driver had five felony warrants on a mix of drug, gun and evasion charges, while his passenger had seven.
Different Chase Policies, Different Results
The Bexar County sheriff’s office handled the crash scene, while the San Antonio Police Department handled traffic control. One officer was struck by a car while managing traffic on the interstate an hour after the original crash. He was described as having a “mangled leg,” and he was transported to SAMMC for treatment.
All in all, the SAPD was very unhappy with the Sheriff’s Office decision to engage in a chase in the first place. In fact, an SAPD spokesman encouraged reporters on the scene to ask about the difference between the SAPD and the Bexar County Sheriff’s respective pursuit policies.
The police chief had not been to the scene before he spoke to reporters. He also stated he did not know much about the original pursuit other than it was for a traffic violation.
“Our policy prohibits pursuing for anything other than a violent crime or a crime involving a firearm,” McManus stated. “The reason we did that is to prevent people from being injured or killed or being put in danger from cars that are fleeing for a property crime — or traffic.”
The police chief did not know why the sheriff’s office was patrolling and saw an issue in an area in which San Antonio police frequently patrol.
When he was asked by reporters what the police chief would have done differently, McManus replied, “Our policy would have prohibited the chase. This is the exact thing that our policy was implemented to prevent. You have to weigh risk against whether it is worth catching the offender or not. If the risk isn’t worth it, then we don’t chase. For property crime, traffic, we simply don’t chase.”
He was asked by a reporter what if the driver had gone the wrong direction on Interstate 35 like the driver in this case did. McManus said his officers would not have pursued.
The Vexing Problem of Texas Wrong-Way Drivers
This incident also brought up a sore point for Texas transportation officials. Wrong-way drivers have been a growing problem on Texas roads for years. According to several studies, people who drive the wrong way on Texas highways are causing more accidents than any other state in the union. According to a several studies, those who drive the wrong way on roads throughout Texas cause more car accidents here than in any other state in the country. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is well aware of the problem, and they have been working on possible solutions for quite a few years.
For example, TxDOT has installed motion-activated signs at dozens of locations throughout the state that light up when drivers enter an off-ramp and start driving the wrong way on a highway. They did so because they found that most wrong-way accidents happen on highways when drivers do exactly that. These types of accidents are especially common at night, when drivers might be unable to clearly see that they’re entering a highway the wrong way.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of these nighttime wrong-way drivers who cause accidents are also DWI, which means they are driving with more than the legal limit for Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), which is .08 percent practically everywhere, including Texas.
How Texas Drivers Can Reduce Wrong-Way Accidents
The most obvious way that Texas drivers can avoid wrong-way accidents is to always pay close attention while driving, especially when they are about to enter a highway via a marked exit. There are plenty of signs, so if the driver is paying attention, they will likely avoid such a mistake.
Drivers should also avoid distractions while driving. If they were to put away the cell phone and other electronic devices and concentrate solely on driving, everyone on Texas roads would be safer as a result. Certainly, if eevryone was paying full attention to their driving, the chance that they would enter a highway via an exit and drive the wrong way would be reduced significantly.
While wrong-way crashes are still relatively uncommon, it’s important to remember that Texas still leads the nation in motor vehicle fatalities as well as with the number of wrong-way crashes, which are more likely to result in serious injuries and fatalities than other types of accidents.