HOUSTON — Hit-and-run crashes as well as injuries and deaths that come along with them are dramatically up in Harris County and are outpacing other large Texas counties, according to a KHOU 11 Investigates analysis of Texas Department of Transportation data.
From 2018 to 2021, total hit-and-run crashes in Harris County increased by 5,207. Injuries increased by 1,156 and deaths rose by 49, a 106% increase. The doubling of hit-and-run deaths outpaces other large Texas counties -- Bexar, Dallas, Travis and Tarrant -- where they only increased by 33% from 2018 to 2021.
Some crash victims said behavior on local roadways is out of control.
“You’ve just got a lot of people that have no regard for life,” Jermaine Saunders said. “They have no regard for human life ... period.”
Houston police said an unknown driver ran Saunders over on his bicycle last October in the 8000 block of Westheimer Road. The crash location is in a hot spot for hit-and-runs. According to the KHOU 11 analysis, there has been 16 deadly and severe injury crashes on Westheimer between Voss Road and Gessner since 2018.
Saunders, a chef by trade, said he’s been unable to work since the wreck and has undergone three surgeries to reconstruct his left ankle.
“Whoever it was, they just kept going,” Saunders said. “They just kept going ... they didn’t slow down at all.”
Houston Police Department Sgt. Chad Long with the hit-and-run unit said there are various reasons why drivers don't stop after hitting someone.
“Somebody may have warrants. They may not have a driver’s license. They may not have insurance,” Long said. “So, they think quickly along those lines, but they fail to think quickly about the person they’ve struck ... and the consequences.”
Too often there are too few criminal consequences for those who run, according to TXDOT data.
The Chapel family knows that first hand. They were involved in a scary crash on the Southwest Freeway feeder road at Gessner last June.
“We could have easily died,” Anthony Chapel said.
According to police, Chapel’s red sedan was T-boned by a red-light running vehicle with three passengers inside. Chapel said his daughter, Ashley, flew out the back window and his other daughter, Asia, was pregnant with triplets at the time.
“I was in the car and could not move at all. I couldn't even turn my head or anything,” Anthony Chapel said. “And that's the worst feeling in the world ... I couldn't get out and help my children.”
While trapped, the suspects took off on foot but left the car and license plate behind. Despite having the evidence, Houston police have not arrested anyone.
“How can you not solve the crime?” Anthony Chapel said. “When you have the car and the license plate and the owner of the car?”
Since 2018 in Harris County, only 12% of all hit-and-run injuries and fatal crashes ended with a criminal charge for the hit-and-run driver, according to the KHOU 11 analysis of TxDOT data.
“Nothing ever came of it at all,” Anthony Chapel said. “It’s pitiful, you know, I don’t think they’re doing their job.”
An HPD spokesperson said the license plate recovered at the scene of the Chapels' crash belonged to a former owner who sold it to a mechanic’s shop -- and that shop sold it to an unknown buyer for cash.
The spokesperson said that without more evidence the case is considered inactive.