San Jacinto County's radios weren't working when Francisco Oropeza allegedly killed neighbors

Lileana Pearson Image
Wednesday, February 14, 2024
Radio dispatches show failure in San Jacinto Co.'s response system
First responders have met with static in life-or-death situations for years, but San Jacinto County commissioners voted that repeatedly failed radio dispatches are not an emergency, instead putting the fix out for bids.

COLDSPRING, Texas (KTRK) -- The San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office said if you call for help, there's a chance no one will hear you.

The emergency radio and 911 operations are failing, and the county commissioners and first responders can't agree. Is this a problem that needs fixing now, or can it wait?

Right now, when first responders try to talk through their body-worn radios they're met with static.

"Each time it breaks like that, someone is trying to talk," Chief Deputy Tim Kean explained as he listened to radio dispatch with ABC13.

The earliest radio dispatch Kean pulled up was from 2018. On it, you can hear Kean trying to contact his team as armed robbers hold up a Dollar General for nine minutes.

"I had to do everything two or three times 'cause when I called, it wouldn't go through, or they couldn't hear it," Kean said.

Precious seconds and important commands are met by static. The white noise means your potentially lifesaving request isn't being heard by anyone at all.

"We hate it. We hate it for the community. We hate it for the county," Lt. Charles Dougherty said.

Eyewitness News was told radio failure left Dougherty in a 45-minute hand-to-hand fight with a violent suspect back in 2019. The majority of his radio attempts were clipped and garbled sounds until, finally, he gets one call through.

"He's fighting with us. We've done pepper balled him. Send another unit if you got it," Dougherty can be heard saying on the radio call.

Being left with no help is commonplace in San Jacinto County for first responders now, but there is one call that haunts many in this department.

"He shot everyone in the house. Please come," a 2023 radio call says after minutes of static.

Francisco Oropeza, 39, is accused of shooting and killing his five neighbors before going on the run. The first officer on the scene was able to use his car radio but knew his body radio would probably fail him in the field.

RELATED: San Jacinto Co. deputies arrived 4 times longer to mass shooting than sheriff's report, AP says

San Jacinto County deputies responded to Francisco Oropeza's shooting rampage nearly four times longer than the sheriff's report, AP says.

"Radios aren't working, did I hear? I'm going to be away from my car, so I might not be able to talk to you. Just keep them coming," that officer can be heard saying after struggling to get through.

After that radio call was placed, the officer ran after an armed and dangerous suspect with no way of talking to his team. ABC13 was told radios in the cars are more reliable than the ones officers wear on their lapels.

"We have been asking over and over and over for something to be done about this, and it's just been crickets," Kean said.

Kean said he's been telling county commissioners for years about this problem and has asked them to declare this an emergency, freeing up funding and speeding up the fix timeline.

However, county commissioners voted this was not an emergency, instead putting the fix out for bids. ABC13 reached out to Judge Fritz Faulker for this report, but he was not made available.

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