Communication issue blamed in slain teacher case

November 28, 2009 9:38:14 PM PST
Questions linger after an HISD teacher was murdered, his body stuffed in his SUV, undiscovered for days. The investigation spans at least three police agencies and close to 100 miles. And now, investigators say there appears to be a breakdown in communication.

We told you Friday night on Eyewitness News, the teacher's SUV was found in Needville, then towed back to Galena Park. His body was still inside.

For three days, the body of Heladio Perales sat undiscovered inside his white Toyota 4 Runner, even as police say officers from as many as three different law enforcement agencies swept over it.

"We had no idea the victim was in the back," said Galena Park Police Chief Robert Pruett.

Investigators tell us a property owner outside Needville found the SUV abandoned Tuesday and reported it to the Ft. Bend County Sheriff's Office. A deputy reportedly ran the license plate and left a note warning it would soon be towed. Records show a Houston police officer also ran across the car.

But it wasn't until Perales' family walked into the Galena Park police station at 4am Thanksgiving Day that officers realized he was missing and quite possibly in danger.

Officers linked Perales to the SUV and sent Fort Bend County deputies to check it again. Those deputies say they also offered to process the vehicle for evidence, but Chief Pruitt told us his officer failed to pass that information along.

"I was under the impression Fort Bend County had said, 'This is your case. We're not gonna fool with it,'" said Chief Pruett.

So the chief says he made the decision to have deputies photograph the car, secure it and then tow it some 53 miles back to the police station.

"I said, 'Before you leave with the vehicle, pop the trunk and make sure there's no victim in the trunk," said Pruett. "My sergeant informed me, 'Chief, Ft. Bend County done looked in the vehicle. It's clean. You can see inside the vehicle.'"

But seven hours later, the chief says a curious officer shined a flashlight into the car's dark tinted windows, discovering a small crack in a rollover cover and a body hidden underneath.

"There was procedural mistakes made," said Chief Pruett. "I don't know how they could have been corrected."

While all this was going on, Wharton police reportedly made a discovery of their own ? a home with evidence of a murder inside and no body. Police believe it was Perales who was the victim in that crime and they have three people of interest they are searching for.

We asked the chief if there was going to be any disciplinary action taken. He says at this point, he hasn't made a decision.


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