Deputy allegedly leaves scene of fatal accident

June 11, 2010 10:44:39 AM PDT
What a Harris County deputy constable did or did not do after a deadly crash is the focus of an investigation. A teenager was killed in the early morning crash in west Houston, and it may have been the result of a street race. The questions continue to mount over what exactly happened Wednesday night, a night when a driver crashed his vehicle into a tree killing his teenage passenger, and how the officer in pursuit failed to see the accident.

A witness to that accident told police he saw an emergency vehicle chasing the car before it crashed. But that emergency vehicle was not on the scene when other officers and medical teams got there.

It was a disturbing statement by the eyewitness who told us he saw an emergency vehicle slow down, turn off the lights and then drive off.

"I never seen nothing like that in my life, so I'm kind of shocked myself," said eyewitness Oscar Cordero.

At Precinct 5, authorities tell Eyewitness News the car that drove off was one of their own, driven by a Precinct 5 deputy, who may not have known an accident occurred.

"He's devastated over this. He's just absolutely devastated over it and that's what he was from the moment he reported it this morning. He said, 'I did not see that,'" said Chief J.J. Laine of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office.

It was around 11:30pm Wednesday when authorities say Precinct 5 Deputy Constable Paul Olivera spotted two cars he believed were racing near Highway 6 and Clay Road. Before long, authorities say he turned on his emergency lights and began to pursue the drivers.

However, in the 15700 block of Park Row in west Houston, the deputy claims he lost track of the cars' tail lights, and believing the cars had outrun him, he stopped the pursuit and proceeded to another call.

"Last night, he had a vehicle get away from him and according to him, he didn't see it. Didn't know where it went. It was just another racer that got away from a policeman out here," Chief Laine said.

But it's quite a different story from what Cordero says he saw, claiming to have not only witnessed the accident but the officer's actions.

"As soon as he saw the scene where the car was totaled in the tree, he turned his lights off and five or six seconds later he was gone," Cordero said.

Authorities have reviewed the dash cam video and say it does show the officer driving by the wreck. It also shows him driving by the engine block which was in the road.

Still they say at the rate of speed at that hour, they believe the officer when he says he didn't see the accident.

"There's a lot that goes on during those times. It's difficult to sit there Thursday morning and say you should have," said Chief Laine.

One man died at the scene. He has been identified as Anthony Rodriguez, 17. Two other men, the driver and the back seat passenger, were taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital and are listed as stable.

Eyewitness News has learned the driver, Jose Herrera, will likely face a felony charge of manslaughter or racing fatality. The Harris County District Attorney's vehicle crime unit is handling the case.

Authorities say someone who might have some information is the driver of the other vehicle involved in the street race. The vehicle is described only as a blue car. They are asking that driver to come forward with any information he or she may have.

Deputy Olivera, 50, is a 13-year veteran in the department. He remains on duty and no determination has yet been made if he will be removed from patrol.

Authorities are conducting their own investigation into whether the victim's life may have been saved if someone had stopped at the time of the accident. The Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney's office are taking the lead in this investigation.

Precinct 5 will conduct a parallel investigation into what the deputy knew and when he knew it.

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