WALLER COUNTY, Texas — Waller's police chief admitted Thursday his officer mishandled the initial investigation when six cyclists were struck by a teenager driving a truck last month. Three were seriously injured with traumatic brain injuries and broken bones.
According to witnesses, the teen was taunting the cyclists by "rolling coal" -- or blowing exhaust smoke -- as he passed them. He then hit the cyclists who were in front of him.
Editor's note: The video in this story originally aired on Oct. 7
The driver stayed on the scene and spoke with police but wasn't charged or ticketed. There have been allegations that he "has connections" to city officials.
An earlier statement on the Waller Police Facebook page said the incident is still under investigation.
Police chief responds to critics
On Facebook Monday, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis, accused the Waller Police Department of botching the investigation by failing to treat it as a crime scene. (Scroll down for full statement)
In a lengthy Facebook post Thursday, Police Chief Bill Llewellyn responded to the criticism.
"The scene was not managed in a manner that is acceptable to me, however; none of the deficiencies that have been identified were due to poor policy or procedure within the department, nor were they influenced by who was involved in the crash or any other personal associations," Llewellyn said. (Scroll down for full statement.)
The chief said he's not a "good ole boy" and believes in treating everyone fairly and equitably.
Mathis said there are some connections between the teen driver and Waller city officials. That connection has not been revealed, but Mathis said, so far, there is no evidence that a city official told the officers at the scene how to handle the situation.
The DA said his office will continue to look for any such criminal interference as the investigation proceeds.
Here's what Mathis posted to Facebook on Monday.
Last week, attorneys for the cyclists said a special prosecutor has been assigned to the case by Mathis.
The special prosecutor said he's investigating the case as a possible 2nd-degree felony.
Cyclists hire attorney
Charlie Thomas, one of the attorneys representing the cyclists, said none of the victims were interviewed by police that day.
“From the outside, we were alarmed that the driver was not issued even a citation,” Thomas said. “It has set off concerns on our end as to the adequacy and the accuracy of any investigation that happened at the scene.”
As far as what justice looks like for the cyclists, Thomas said that depends on what both his civil investigation and the DA’s criminal investigation uncovers.
Cyclists nationwide respond
The story has made headlines nationwide and drawn plenty of criticism of Waller Police, especially from other cyclists.
Joe Cutrufo, executive director with BikeHouston, said cyclists are no stranger to dealing with dangerous drivers on the roads.
“Justice is not blind apparently in Waller County,” Cutrufo said. "This person was looking for trouble and still walked away without as much as a slap on the wrist. If somebody were to hurt six people with anything else they would’ve been arrested on the spot.”
Cutrufo hopes this is a case all drivers can learn from.
“A situation in which somebody driving a 7,000-pound, Ford F-250 into six people, ought to be an inflection point, ought to be a teachable moment,” Cutrufo said. “You are wielding an incredibly deadly weapon and you need to act accordingly.”
Teen's attorney speaks out
The teen’s attorney Rick Detoto released the following statement:
“My client is a young man in high school with college aspirations. He is a new and inexperienced driver. Immediately after the accident police did an investigation at the scene. This included speaking with eyewitnesses to the accident. After their investigation, they decided not to charge my client and did not issue him a traffic ticket.
“My client stopped immediately, called 911, attempted to render aid and cooperated with police. The family prays for a quick recovery for the injured riders.”
Mathis said the case is far from over and will be handled appropriately.
"This will not be a lynching and likewise it will not be a case of small county politics making problems just go away," Mathis said.
Mathis said attorneys involved in the case are being cooperative.
He also asked everyone to share the roadways and abide by laws.
"This is not the time for finger-pointing at groups or making assumptions about people," Mathis said. "The world is already filled with too much hate and we can do our part as a community (that includes its cyclists and farmers alike) to ensure that justice is done in the courtroom and not on the side of the road. The world is watching all of us. Let’s be the example that it needs to see."
Police chief's full Facebook post
Here is the entire Facebook post from Waller Police Chief Bill Llewellyn.
"My name is Bill Llewellyn, and I am the Chief of Police at the Waller Police Department. I am proud to be the chief in Waller and I am immensely proud of the officers that work for me. My department has recently been receiving an abundance of criticism regarding an incident that occurred on September 25th, 2021. The incident involved a crash that involved several cyclists and a pick-up truck on Business Hwy 290, just outside the city limits of Waller. This incident is currently an active case, so I will not be commenting on specifics pertinent to criminal charges or elements of a crime. I would however, like to clarify some misperceptions that have been presented on social media recently.
It has been stated that our agency mishandled the initial investigation of the crash scene. That is true. A large part of being professional, is being accountable. The scene was not managed in a manner that is acceptable to me, however; none of the deficiencies that have been identified were due to poor policy or procedure within the department, nor were they influenced by who was involved in the crash or any other personal associations. To put it quite simply, they were due to a lack of knowledge on our part and those shortcomings are being dealt with internally and will not be repeated.
Another complaint has been that I have not responded to the numerous complaints that have been posted on social media. My reason for that has been that almost all of the complaints have been from individuals that live in another state and have absolutely no involvement in the incident, nor are they citizens of Waller. Most of the comments have been offensive, demeaning or threatening and I have no desire to become involved in an exchange with people that possess that mentality. However, recently comments have been made by the head of a local office and portions of his statements are misleading or incorrect and I will take this opportunity to present factual information.
DPS Trooper Nancy Mata responded to the scene of the accident and her assistance was greatly appreciated. Her knowledge and efforts at the scene were instrumental in ensuring that the required information was obtained and documented for use in any future proceedings. Her conduct was just another example of how well the area law enforcement agencies work together to support one another and prioritize public service to the citizens of Waller County.
A Waller police supervisor that arrived on scene did attempt to contact the Waller County District Attorney’s office on call Assistant District Attorney. Upon receiving no answer, he then attempted to contact the next individual on the contact list but received no answer at that number either. Admittedly, the sergeant failed to leave a message, but contact was attempted. My sergeant was counseled regarding failing to leave a message, but I would also suggest that if the office head wishes to decrease his frustration, he should recommend to his employees that they answer their phone when “on call.”
The Texas Transportation Code requires that all crash reports be submitted within 10 days of occurrence. The referenced crash report was submitted on the 27th of September, two days after the crash.
The initial offense report was completed on the 28th of September.
The Waller investigator began coordinating our efforts with the Waller County D.A.’s office on the 28th of September. This included contact with the D.A.’s investigator, as well as ADA Diepraam.
At this time, the Waller P.D. investigator continues to coordinate with he D.A.’s office to ensure that we are doing everything required to achieve a successful prosecution if necessary.
All paperwork, recordings, statements, and other information generated by the Waller Police Department is in the possession of the District Attorney’s Office. I would like to state that the ADA’s and investigators from the D.A.’s office have been extremely helpful and affable.
The only other subjects to which I wish to respond include comments regarding the officer’s indifference to the cyclist and rumors of influence by city officials.
Many of the comments posted on social media accuse police officers, in general, of not being concerned with the welfare of the cyclists. Please remember that these men and women have dedicated their entire work lives to protect the safety and welfare of the citizens that they serve. Because officers use a sense of humor as a protective measure and because they have to prioritize their mission over sentiment, they are often accused of being insensitive. Nothing could be further from the truth and most officers feel a sense of failure when a citizen is injured or victimized within their area of responsibility.
The other comment that is mentioned involves “criminal interference.” Waller is a small town that anticipates a great deal of growth in the very near future. With that in mind, the city officials have been planning for that growth at every opportunity. This includes infrastructure and other physical improvements, as well as philosophical changes. I am not from the Houston area and when I interviewed for the position of Police Chief two years ago, I made it very clear that I have no “good ole boy” traits and that I believe in treating everyone fairly and equitably. The Waller City Counsel not only supports that philosophy, they demand that philosophy and have always encouraged me to handle all situations professionally, without regard to who is involved.
I will state unequivocally that I have never met any of the parties involved in the crash incident and I have not received any influence from any member of city administration regarding this incident.
Waller Police Department will continue to strive to provide the very best police services that we can to our citizens. We benefit from very strong community support, and I do not wish to see that support effected by misinformation. We are a small agency but are making every effort to develop expertise within our department. This endeavor takes time and opportunity, and we will inevitably make mistakes along the way, but we will attempt to learn from each mistake and the end result will be a stronger and more responsive police department."
District attorney's full Facebook post
Here's the full post from Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis:
It has been 16 days now since six innocent bicyclists were run over by a motorist in Waller County. This office tried to refrain from passing any judgment until we could gather information about what happened at the scene. As previously stated, we did not get professionally or formally notified of the occurrence at the time of the event, but found out via social media. Now, we are able to share a small part of our opinions as the case investigation progresses and questions continue to arise as to how the D.A.’s office will proceed.1) This case was not handled appropriately by the investigating agency. PERIOD. Despite being encouraged by the Texas Department of Public Safety to treat the scene as a crime scene and to contact the D.A.‘s Office for advice on how to proceed, the investigating agency chose not to do so. The actions of the Texas Department of Public Safety on scene were professional and we are thankful they were there to assist. We are also working with the Waller County Sheriff’s Office to gather the evidence they are able to provide as they arrived on scene to backup Waller P.D. Sheriff Guidry has been most helpful in this regard.2) There has been some online and community speculation that the incident was handled in the manner it was because of connections between the motorist and Waller city officials. At this point we can confirm there are some connections, but have yet to see evidence of a city official directing the officer on the scene as to how to handle this particular situation. We will continue to look for any such criminal interference as the investigation proceeds.3) Attorneys for the victims have been more than helpful in assisting this office with seeking justice. Our lines of communication are open and the victims questions are being answered as they arise even though we know they would prefer a faster decision-making process.4). All sides of this matter (the juvenile, the adult passenger, their families, the victims and their friends/families) can be assured that this case is not being swept away as the days pass, and attorneys for both boys are being cooperative at this time. This will not be a lynching and likewise it will not be a case of small county politics making problems just go away.5) Finally, we ask that all of our community members and bicyclists that come here to continue to be respectful of one another, share the roads and abide by the laws. This is not the time for finger pointing at groups or making assumptions about people based on their choices in sports or residency. The world is already filled with too much hate and we can do our part as a community (that includes its cyclists and farmers alike) to ensure that justice is done in the courtroom and not on the side of the road. The world is watching all of us. Let’s be the example that it needs to see.Thanks to all of you for your continued patience.
Waller County District Attorney Elton R. Mathis