Man allegedly fleeing street takeover charged with murder in multicar collision
One person died and another was in critical condition following the crash.
A Houston man who authorities believe was engaged in a "lawless" street takeover has been charged with murder after allegedly leading police on a car chase that ended in a deadly, multicar collision.
The Houston Police Department said an officer tried to pull the suspect over for reckless driving shortly after 6 p.m. local time Friday in west Houston during an investigation of a group known for street takeovers and reckless driving.
A pursuit ensued that lasted about 10 minutes, police said. While driving at a "high rate of speed" in a silver Charger, the suspect ran a red light at an intersection in northeast Houston and caused a crash involving five cars, according to HPD Assistant Chief Ban Tien.
An innocent driver in one of the cars was killed at the scene, authorities said. A female passenger in that car was also transported to a local hospital in "highly critical condition," Tien said.
Other drivers involved in the crash sustained minor injuries, according to Tien. Police were in the process of identifying the victims in the hours after the crash.
"Now I have seen some pretty bad crashes, you know, in my career, the last 25 years. I have not seen one, that type, that bad, in a long, long time," Tien told reporters during a briefing Friday night, noting that there was debris found hundreds of feet away from the initial contact. "Just the sheer momentum of the vehicle … caused a chain reaction."
Tien said it is too early in the investigation to know how fast the suspect was driving when the crash occurred. The preliminary investigation indicates that the driver was traveling "at such a high rate of speed" that he left the officers pursuing him behind, he said.
The suspect, identified by police as 21-year-old Damian West, has been charged with murder and aggravated assault in the incident, both felonies, court records show. The aggravated assault charge could be upgraded to murder depending on the condition of the female passenger, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Sean Teare told reporters.
Police said West was hospitalized for observation following the crash. He is currently in jail. It is unclear if he has an attorney. He is due in court on Monday, court records show.
West was released on a $100 bond from a February 2021 charge in Harris County of unlawfully carrying of a weapon, a misdemeanor, court records show. His next court appearance in that case is scheduled for Tuesday.
A driver involved in the multicar collision said he left lucky to be alive.
"I'm so thankful to God to give me another chance, to give me another opportunity to be with my daughters and my sons and my wife and my parents, my whole family," the man, Adan, told Houston ABC station KTRK.
Teare said Houston and Harris County authorities have been targeting street takeover groups, which convert intersections into speedways that often attract large crowds.
"They are the definition of a criminal street gang. And we are going to begin to treat them like that," Teare said. "We work very closely, day in and day out, to try to curb this behavior, but this is the end result every single time. Someone's life is at risk."
Another driver alleged to have been involved in the same street takeover on Friday also led police on a chase that ended in a crash involving multiple vehicles, Teare said. There were no serious injuries in that incident.
"It just highlights how lawless these groups are. How, with complete disregard to everyone's safety around them, they behave," Teare said. "And that's why we will redouble our efforts to ensure things like this don't happen in our community anymore."