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I fired twice. The driver fell to the ground

Ed Lucas

He was twenty years old

By Ed Lucas as told to Breck Porter

I was watching the news Wednesday afternoon, March 26 at 4 PM. Suddenly the newscaster switched to a helicopter reporter covering a police pursuit in Southwest Houston. The chase lasted over thirty minutes. I watched as at least three innocent drivers' sustained extensive damages to their vehicles and injuries.
Watching this pursuit took me back to November 1982. I was the night shift patrol sergeant in the East District of Harris County.
I had been with the Harris County Sheriff's Department for six years and a patrol sergeant for almost a year. It was deep into the night as I ate my fast food meal at the McDonald's at I-10 and Sheldon Road. I had a ride along civilian passenger that night, a female Sheriff's dispatcher.
A calm voice belonging to a seasoned dispatcher came over my handheld radio. The broadcast was to alert all deputies in the East District that the Houston Police Department was in a high-speed pursuit of a pick-up that had been firing a handgun at motorists traveling on I-10. The chase was coming straight down the freeway towards my location. As I listened to the dispatcher, I began to get a feeling of excitement just listening to the broadcast. "The suspect vehicle is approaching Uvalde heading east, any units clear and close to assist Houston as needed, respond".
I looked at my ride-along. Her eyes were wide with anticipation. I, however, knew that it was against department policy to get into a pursuit with a civilian onboard. The chase continued towards my location.
We left the McDonald's and got on I-10 just east of Sheldon and waited. As I sat in my 1982 Chrysler patrol car with my passenger, I did not think about the danger of a high-speed pursuit. I did not think about what disciplinary action the department would take against me if I got involved in a chase with a civilian onboard and I certainly did not think about how the final outcome would alter certain lives.
As the fleeing pick-up truck sped past my vehicle I waited until the last unit cleared before I fell in behind the pursuit.
The dispatcher relayed information that shots were being fired from the fleeing vehicle towards the pursuing officers. My emotions jumped to a higher level. I advised the dispatcher that I was involved in the pursuit, and I would take command of the Sheriff's units and I would call the pursuit.
I believe there were three Houston units, one DPS unit and three Harris County units involved in this eastbound pursuit in excess of 70 miles per hour. I am sure there were more but I didn't see them.
I saw the fleeing vehicle swerve across all three lanes trying to take out any police vehicle that got too close. This maneuver happened time and time again. I observed shots being fired from the pursuing units.
The fleeing vehicle got off the freeway at the Highlands exit. The pursuit went through the entire community of Highlands. Hairpin turns, U -turns, running red lights, stop signs, wrong way, through yards and ditches, this pursuit was like none other I had been involved in.
My pulse rate and adrenalin flow must have been off the chart.
When the chase finally got back on the highway after going through Highlands, somehow I had become the second chase car and the DPS was the lead vehicle. I observed the trooper on the passenger side firing at the fleeing vehicle.
The DPS car was parallel to the suspect when I saw the brake lights blink on and off on the fleeing vehicle. The suspect slammed on his brakes and the DPS car flew past him.
I was able to stop my car beside and to the rear of the suspect. I jumped out of my car and positioned myself by my right rear fender. I had my .357 Smith, leveled at the driver's side door. I screamed for the driver to show me his hands and stay in the vehicle. He did not. As the other police vehicles were coming to a stop and the DPS car was backing up, the driver's door burst open and the driver lunged in a crouching position from the vehicle. Without hesitation, I fired twice. The driver fell to the ground. He was pronounced dead later at Hermann Hospital. He was twenty years old.
Besides shooting a gun at motorists the vehicle he was driving was reported stolen.
There was an extensive search conducted however no gun was found on the suspect or inside the truck. Later, divers searched the San Jacinto River but no weapon was ever found. The investigation concluded that the gun must have been thrown from the fleeing vehicle during the pursuit.
What the driver's intention was, when he lunged from the pick-up, I will never know. I know that at that particular point in time I thought he had a gun and he would use it on me and the other officers.
The chase and the outcome was front-page news for several days.
Assistant DA, Terry Wilson, Harris County Sheriff's Detective Lieutenant Grace Hefner and Detective Ed Kroschel as well as Houston detectives and DPS investigators spent countless hours investigating, interviewing witnesses, listening to all agency dispatcher tapes and conducting SCUBA dives before the case was presented to a Grand Jury in 1983. I was no billed. The FBI looked at the case and came to the same conclusion.
Based on the information I had at the time, the emotional state, the adrenalin rush, the way he came out of his vehicle and it being night time, I have never second guessed what happened that fateful night. Naturally when it was discovered there was no gun I felt different.
In my opinion drivers who flee from the police and endanger innocent lives are using a deadly weapon, the vehicle.
Police officers should be able to use deadly force, when practical, to terminate the chase before innocent lives are lost. Officers should not fear our criminal/civil justice system or a policy that prohibits shooting at a fleeing vehicle when circumstances dictate.
If deadly force is justified when a criminal has a gun in his hand and displays it in a threatening manner then why can't the same criminal who drives a 4000 pound vehicle, fleeing from the police, busting intersections, running red lights and going the wrong way that clearly endangers many innocent children and adults be subjected to the same deadly force if used in a reasonable manner?
I would like to see the same test that courts use "what a reasonable man would do under the same circumstances".
In nearly all of the chases I have watched on TV and actually been involved in, there were several easy opportunities where officers had a clear and safe line of fire towards the front of the fleeing car. I am not advocating that all fleeing vehicles should be shot off the road, however deadly force should be available to the pursuing/blocking officers when feasible and reasonable.
A bullet to the radiator or motor block is more efficient and safer than stop sticks and much less dangerous to the officer who deploys them.
Ed Lucas is a veteran police officer and former Chief Police in Bayou Vista, Galveston County, Texas.


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