The information contained in this report was obtained through the freedom of infomation act. All accounts, quotes from people, and footage were recorded from copies of the incident reports, witnesses written statements, and copies from videotapes from the scene leading up to the accident, the accident itself, and after the accident.
Anatomy of a Head-On Collision
On March 27, 2007 a major head on collision occurred in Livingston, Texas between an on-duty Sheriff's Deputy in a patrol unit, and a runaway truck. The driver of the truck was Michael Wayne Gaston, 47, of Livingston, Texas. The accident occurred just a few blocks from downtown Livingston where, during the time of the day, was bustling with heavy traffic. Gaston, died shortly after the collision from a crushed chest with ruptured heart. Since that day, there have been rumors of what transpired leading up to the collision.With reports from witnesses at the scene and video tape from the scene, we set out to show what really happened on Highway 146 and Garner Street in Livingston, Texas shortly after 4:30 pm on March 27, 2007.
Phillip Waller was the Polk County Sheriff's Deputy who was hit head-on in a patrol truck. Here's his statement regarding the events of that day:
On March 27, 2007, at approximately 4:30 pm 911 calls came into the Polk County Sheriff's Office. The 911 callers stated a man was driving a silver Chevrolet Silverado Truck and was driving into opposite lanes of traffic north bound on Highway 146 and had run several vehicles off of the road including a school bus.
Deputy Patrick Marek responded to Highway 146 and encountered the silver Chevrolet pickup in the vicinity of Highway 146 and the intersection of FM 3126. Deputy Marek deployed his emergency lights and siren in an attempt to stop the pickup. The driver of the pickup swerved several times off of the road and into the south bound lanes of traffic causing several south bound vehicles to take evasive actions to avoid a head on collision.
I, Sgt. Phillip Waller responded from the Sheriff's Office to assist Deputy Marek in the pursuit of the pickup. Deputy Marek drove in front of the pickup truck in an attempt to stop the pickup and to warn oncoming traffic of the impending danger.
Deputy Marek's vehicle was rammed twice by the driver of the pickup which was refusing to stop. Myself along with several patrol deputies went en route in an attempt to set up spike strips and prevent the silver pickup from entering the intersection of Highway 146 and Highway 190. At that time of day, the intersection was congested with families and school children leaving the High School which is located on Highway 190 west. There were also school buses loaded with children en route from school to their homes.
The pickup truck continues north bound in the south bound lanes running vehicles off the road along with two patrol units.
Lt. Randy Bridges had set up at the intersection of Garner Street and Highway 146 in an attempt to set up spikes strips. Lt. Andy Lowrie and Sgt. Howard Smith were directly in front of my patrol unit as we approached Highway 146 and Garner Street.
The driver of the pickup came down the hill approaching the Garner Street intersection in the southbound lane. Lt. Lowrie attempted to avoid a head on collision by moving over into the outside lane of Highway 146. The driver of the pickup continued in the south bound lane of traffic and collided with the driver's side rear door panel of his patrol unit.
I was on the inside lane of Highway 146 south bound and had stopped my vehicle behind Lt. Lowrie's patrol unit when he collided with Lt. Lowrie's vehicle and then collided head-on with my patrol unit.
I was immediately knocked unconscious and suffered a broken right femur. I was treated by EMS and personnel on scene, then life-flighted to Herman Hospital where two surgeries were performed to repair two breaks in my right femur. I stayed in Herman Hospital for 3 weeks and was sent home for physical therapy. I remained at home until October 2007 when I was allowed to return to work in a limited performance capacity.
The videos you are about to see are the videos taken from the in car cameras of the patrol units that responded to the vehicle pursuit. I would like to warn you that the videos are graphic in nature, but will show exactly what occurred on March 27th 2007.
There have been many rumors concerning the events that occurred that day and accusations have been made that the Polk County Sheriff's Office did not attempt to stop or help the driver of the pickup. There have been rumors that Sheriff's deputies shot the driver of the pickup after the vehicle had collided with three patrol units. There were rumors that the driver was on his cell phone complaining that he was having a heart attack and was trying to get to the hospital. The driver's cell phone records show that there were no incoming or outgoing calls made prior to the pursuit or during the pursuit. The medical examiners office reported that the driver had three known narcotics in his system, all were prescription medications.
My hope is that if you decide to watch each video, you will conclude that Sheriff's deputies made several attempts to stop the driver of the pickup and made every attempt to protect the law abiding families that were on the road that day from being seriously injured or killed. I personally salute the men and women in the law enforcement profession for their continual sacrifices that they are more than willing to make to keep you and your family safe from those who do not have any regard for human life. -- Sgt. Phillip Waller, Polk County Sheriff's Department
The videos you are about to see are property of the Polk County Sheriff's Department and PolkCountyToday.com. Any un-authorized duplication of these videos is strictly prohibited and vilolators could be prosecuted.
"...The subject ran several vehicles off of the roadway and caused many others to take evasive action to avoid a collision..."
"...Little Britches day care was coming up ahead of us and that this time of the day parents would be picking up their children. I felt that the vehicle had to be stopped by whatever means possible" -- Deputy Patrick Marek
Editor's note: If you watch the video closely, you can see where Deputy Marek's vehicle is rammed from behind.
"...I then observed the silver truck hit Sgt. Waller's Patrol vehicle head on. The impact caused the rears of both trucks to lift off the ground to an approximate fourty-five degree angle..." -- Deputy Terri L. Mayer
"...I could not tell if the suspect was conscious or not so I then removed the suspect from the vehicle for officer safety and safety of the suspect due to the amount of smoke coming from both of the vehicles, at which time I was unaware if the vehicles were going to catch fire...
...Once the suspect was on the ground, I was then determined to pull the suspect further from the vehicles due to an excessive amount of smoke coming from the vehicles." -- Sgt. Howard Smith
The following day Sgt. Rob Atkins of the Polk County Sheriff's Department met with four complainants (names will not be revealed) at the Polk County Sheriff's Office in reference to the reckless driver on 146. Here's some of what they had to say:
Complainant 1 stated that he was driving a school bus on Highway 146 near Providence Road at about 4:45 pm when he observed a gray colored four wheel drive pickup headed north in the south bound lane of traffic. He further advised that he observed the truck run over two mail boxes and then began driving directly towards his bus, which at the time had students. The driver of the bus stated that he drove the bus off the roadway to avoid a collision with the truck. The driver further stated that students on the bus were thrown from their seats but did not sustain injuries.
Complainant 2 stated that she was also operating a school bus on Highway 146 at about 4:40 pm when she observed a gray late model pickup driving erraticaly, traveling north on the shoulder of the roadway passing other vehicles. She further advised that the truck then swerved into the south bound lane while still traveling north bound. She further stated that she had to drive on the shoulder of the road to avoid a collision with the truck.
Complainants 3 and 4 were together in a private vehicle and stated that they were traveling on Highway 146 and observed a gray pickup driving erratically on the roadway swerving in and out of both lanes of traffic. They both said that they saw the pickup strike two mailboxes and almost strike two school buses.
All four complainants voluntarily submitted written statements to the Polk County Sheriff's Department testifying to the events that they had witnessed.
What About "Spiking" the Suspect's Tires?
Based on incident reports submitted by officers, and based on the footage from the unit cameras in the patrol cars, there just wasn't adequate time to get spikes down to spike the truck's tires. Also, based on the high rate of speed and the proximity of the patrol units to where the spikes were to be placed, spikes might not have changed anything. The following are excerpts from incident reports submitted by deputies at the scene:
"Lt. Lowrie and myself were trying to locate a safe stop to deploy spikes before the vehicle could reach the busy intersection of 146 and 190...
....I then noticed the tan vehicle traveling in the south bound lane headed north directly at us." -- Deputy Howard Smith
"...I got into my patrol unit and traveled to the intersection of Garner Street and Highway 146. I exited my unit and grabbed my Stop Stix spikes with the intention of spiking the tires of the suspect's vehicle. As I got the spikes I realized that the pursuit was approaching me and I did not have time to deploy the spikes." --Lt. Randy Bridges
"...At that point I could see Lt. Bridges had come to the cross street of Garner and Highway 146. I noticed that he was pulling his stop sticks out of the back of his patrol unit" --Deputy Scott Wright
Seargant Phillip Waller Today
It's safe to say that there's more to recovery than the physical aspect of healing. There's also post traumatic stress and emotional pain such as recurring dreams of the event and depression that often accompanies survivors of major car accidents who suddenly find themselves removed from their routine lives and are having to deal with, in addition to the physical pain, often un-certain futures.
Motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) often have clinically significant psychological sequelae. Victims frequently are left with multiple comorbid psychological and physical disorders, with the most prevalent psychological problems being posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, pain-related conditions, and phobic avoidance of stimuli associated with the accident. --William J. Koch and Steven Taylor Health Psychology Clinic, Department of Psychology, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre, University of British Columbia
After two surgeries to repair two shattered breaks in his right leg, and after months of physical therapy, Phillip Waller is able to walk normally, and is back on duty for the Polk County Sheriff's Department.
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