4 killed in fiery crash on Highway 290 at FM 359 west

Crash closes all mainlanes

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – Four people were killed Wednesday in a two-car crash in Waller County.

According to investigators, around 12:50 a.m. the driver of a Chevy Impala was speeding along the freeway and slammed into the back of a Volkswagen forcing it off the road. The Volkswagen burst into flames killing all four people inside, officials said. The victims were not discovered until firefighters put out the flames, Investigators said.

DPS investigators have identified the driver of the Impala as 41-year-old Robert Daniel Maxwell Jr. of Houston.

Investigators said Maxwell was going 140-150 miles per hour -- more than double the speed limit on 290 W.

Maxwell admitted to investigators that he was under the influence of cocaine, Tramadol, Phencyclidine or "Angel Dust," and an "8-ball," which is a mind-altering drug. Maxwell is also on parole from Harris County.

Investigators have not publicly identified the four people in the Volkswagen, but said they were on their way to Bastrop.

VIDEO: 4 killed in fiery crash on Highway 290 at FM 359 west

"There was not a lot of room in the car and you could see when they put the flames out that these people were burnt beyond recognition," said Sergeant Richard Standifer who was on scene when the incident happened.

All main lanes of the freeway were closed as crews investigated and cleared the scene.

DPS requested four arrest warrants for charges of manslaughter against the driver. A district felony judge authorized the charges. Maxwell underwent surgery for minor arm injuries and will remain in jail in Brazos County. Officials say he was seen swerving in and out of lanes and into the grass before rear-ending the vehicle, killing four people.

"However, because Texas does not have a per se drugged driving law like we do for alcohol, we can't charge him now until we get the blood results back from either DPS or an independent crime lab," said Waller County First Assistant District Attorney W.K. Diepraam. "As a result, we've charged him with manslaughter."

Manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Diepraam said they are still waiting on drug tests to be completed. Depending on the results, the charges could change to intoxication manslaughter. Diepraam pointed out that the current laws and law enforcement training is not adequate to charge and convict those who drive drugged.

"Drugged driving is kind of an undocumented problem not only in Waller County but across Texas and across the nation," said Diepraam. "Police aren't really trained to look for drugged drivers when they get stopped. Prosecutors don't really have the training to prosecute these people. It's very difficult. It's a huge problem."

He said that in order for someone to be charged quickly, an officer with proper training to identify drugged drivers would need to be called out. Even then, he said, they must begin by ruling out alcohol. In this case, Diepraam said, that would be difficult since a sobriety was not conducted due to the nature of Maxwell's injuries.

"These types of drivers are very difficult to detect for police officers who don't receive funding and don't receive training on how to detect these individuals," said Diepraam. "No. 2 -- our laws are very ineffective when it comes to drugged driving because, unlike alcohol where we have a per se limit, we don't have that for illegal drugs. So it's perfectly legal in Texas to take cocaine and get behind the vehicle and drive -- except for the fact of committing the possession of cocaine -- but it's not a DWI and that's just sad."

DPS said the investigation is still ongoing.

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