HOUSTON - A family's refusal to allow their mother's death in a fiery crash to go unanswered prompted a legal showdown between the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office and her relatives.
Doris Walters, 66, was killed in July 2011 when an 18-wheeler slammed into the back of her car on Highway 59 in Sugar Land.
"Doris was like a mother to just anybody she came in contact with," said Donny Kelley, Walters' son-in-law and retired Houston police officer. "She was a loving person and the next thing you know it all ended July 19, 2011."
Police reports show the driver of the 18-wheeler hit Walters' car from behind while it was stopped in traffic. The accident caused Walters' car and the cab of the 18-wheeler to burst into flames. Walters died in the fire.
"Some mornings I couldn't get off the floor because that was my mom and now I've got nobody," said Billy Hutchison, Walter's son.
Sugar Land police wrote the driver of the 18-wheeler, Billy Gene McDade, "failed to control speed" when he hit Walters' car and caused a chain reaction accident involving a total of eight vehicles.
An independent accident investigator also filed a report as part of a civil lawsuit and noted that McDade's on-board computer showed at the time of impact he was travelling over 50 mph and did not apply his brakes before the crash. The report also noted McDade had a clear line of vision leading up to the accident.
Sugar Land police also noted McDade gave conflicting statements about what caused the accident to officers. In one report Sugar Land police wrote they believed there was enough evidence to arrest and charge McDade.
The case was then given the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office, but it took nearly a year for prosecutors to bring the matter before a grand jury. In 2012 a grand jury did not indict McDade on any criminal charges.
"That was like a kick in the gut, a slap in the face," said Hutchison. "We feel that we have let her down because we have gotten no justice."
"Brutally hit by that 18-wheeler, burst into flames and killed, and nothing ever happened to this individual," said Kelley.
The family refused to let the matter drop and repeatedly asked prosecutors in the DA's Office to take another look at the case.
"I just totally feel like it was brushed under the rug," said Hutchison.
A family friend then stepped in and started doing his own digging. Ronnie Bird, a retired Houston police lieutenant, compiled a mountain of information and again tried to get prosecutors to take the case before another grand jury.
"I spent roughly a couple hundred hours going through all this," said Bird.
Bird said prosecutors still wouldn't budge, telling him the information he compiled was nothing different than they had already presented to the first grand jury. Bird persisted and petitioned a judge directly to have the case presented before another grand jury.
"I knew there was enough evidence," said Bird.
Bird's request was granted and a second grand jury reviewed the case and indicted McDade on charges of criminally negligent homicide. McDade is scheduled to appear in court on Monday to face a judge.
"I will say that this office gave it every due consideration," said Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey.
Healey disputes the family's claim his office bungled the case. Healey said two prosecutors reviewed the evidence in the case, did additional investigative work and he stands by the work his prosecutors did when they presented it to the first grand jury. Healey said while the progression of this case is unusual it is not unheard of for two grand juries to reach a different conclusion on the same case.
Healey said that since grand jury proceedings are by law secret he cannot discuss specifics of what evidence was presented. However, Healey said he does not believe Bird presented evidence to the second jury that differed from evidence presented to the first grand jury by his prosecutors.
"Does this office not believe a crime was committed the day of Mrs. Walters' death?" asked Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
"We have faith in the grand jury system and the grand jury has returned a true bill and it's our responsibility to go forward," said Healey.
Healey said when McDade appears before a judge for the first time Monday he will be booked into the Fort Bend County jail. Healey also said he has assigned two different prosecutors to handle the case.
The family has asked for a special prosecutor to be brought in to handle the case. Healey said he felt that was unnecessary since the two prosecutors he's assigned to the case are different from the ones who originally handled the case.
"This is a tragic event and our hearts go out to the family for the loss of a loved one. This was an accident, not all accidents are crimes. This was just an accident," said McDade's defense attorney MattHennessey.A
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