The Houston Police Department didn’t recommend criminal charges in the crash of two Houston Fire Department trucks that killed a bicyclist and injured 10 others last year in the Montrose area, a spokesman said.
“The review of the (Houston Police Department) report indicated that the drivers involved had not been acting dangerously or with reckless disregard for others,” said George Flynn, a spokesman for Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos. State law “provides privilege to those who operate emergency vehicles appropriately during emergency situations.”
However, Assistant District Attorney Donna Hawkins said prosecutors could still opt to file charges.
“The Houston Police Department presented their reports to us and did not request that criminal charges be filed. Their reports are being reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office.”
The HPD report states that the law does not absolve the vehicle operator of the “duty to operate the vehicle with appropriate regard for the safety of all persons: or the consequences of reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
The March 30, 2009, collision fatally injured Leigh Boone, 29, an executive assistant at the Houston Center for Photography. She was riding her bicycle to work and was crushed by one of the firetrucks. She died nearly two weeks later.
No black boxes
HPD investigators could not determine the speeds of the two HFD units that collided at Westheimer and Dunlavy as they responded to a false alarm.
A smoke test to see if city sewer lines were leaking triggered the fire run, even though the Fire Department was told in advance of the testing.
The trucks were not equipped with a black box to record speed and other data. A top Fire Department official told police he was unsure if GPS trackers on the fire trucks stored speed information and none was ever provided to city police, according to a 51-page investigative file obtained by the Houston Chronicle under the Texas Public Information Act.
Five witnesses estimated one or both of the firetrucks were traveling at a high rate of speed — 45 to 50 mph — as they approached the busy intersection where both roads have posted speeds of 30 mph. The firetrucks involved were a 2008 Ferrera fire engine weighing 37,000 pounds and a 2007 Ferrara ladder truck weighing 62,000 pounds.
The police investigation noted that eight of the nine firefighters in the two vehicles, including a captain and an engine driver who sustained broken bones in the collision, were not wearing seat belts.
“Several of the fire fighters did not have their seat belts on,” a violation of department policy, wrote an HPD accident investigator. “I was told that it is difficult for them to put their gear on seat-belted in, and if they put gear on prior to leaving it delays them getting to the fire.”
The police investigation concluded the crash was caused by HFD firefighter Warren Ducote failing to stop the ladder truck he was driving for a red light. Ducote told police that as he drove north on Dunlavy, he noted that several blocks ahead the light was green at Westheimer.
“I did not look at the light again because I always treat that intersection the same. It is the most dangerous intersection in my district,” Ducote told police.
“I slowed down and looked left, and then right. I did not see anything. I hit the gas to continue north on Dunlavy. Then we got hit and rolled over.
“I do not know my speed, but it was not very fast.”
The driver of the pumper truck, Brian Edwards, told police he was headed west on Westheimer with his lights and siren on.
“I cannot clearly remember right now, but I’m sure my light was green at Dunlavy,” he told police. “The ladder truck came into the intersection with no warning. I only had a couple of feet to react. I braked and pulled to the left, but it was too late.”
The investigation showed Edwards activated the Opticom system — which allows emergency vehicles to control traffic lights — and had changed the Westheimer traffic light to green.
Kese Smith, a spokesman for HPD, said no traffic citations were issued as a result of the fatal wreck.
“The driver of the ladder truck (Ducote) was found at fault for failure to use due caution, and no citation was issued. The matter was referred to the Fire Department” for disciplinary action, he said.
Fire Department officials have not responded to a written request from the Chronicle for a copy of their internal investigation, and spokesman Patrick Trahan said the department intends to release findings once privileged information is redacted by their legal department.