An East Texas family is struggling to understand how a law enforcement officer could stop a drunk driver and then let him get back on the road.
Back in August of 2011, 42-year-old Kevin Earl Jones of Longview was killed by that drunk driver in a head-on crash on Interstate 20. The drunk driver was also killed.
For the past 26 months, Jones' family says they have been fighting to learn the truth about that night.
"I can tell you it doesn't hurt any less today than the day it happened," says Martha Chavis, Kevin's mother.
In the early morning hours of August 20, 2011 a wrong-way crash on Interstate 20 claimed the lives of two East Texas men. The person driving the wrong way on the interstate was 62-year-old Pedro Rodriguez of Marshall. The victim, 42-year-old Kevin Earl Jones, was on his way home to Longview after wrapping up a job interview in Port Arthur. Kevin was a half a mile from his exit when he was killed in the head-on crash.
"For a long time, I said that I was robbed twice. I was robbed of my son. I was robbed of someone to blame-- the drunk driver because he died also-- but then nine months after my son was gone, I found out there was another person to blame," says Martha.
Kevin's mother, Martha Chavis, says she knows it was ultimately the drunk driver's choice that killed both him and her son. Half a year later, Martha and her daughter, Kevin's sister Renea, requested the dash camera video from the crash. They wanted to find the exact place of his death and erect an official highway sign in his memory, but their quest for closure only brought them more pain.
"One of the dash cams had audio on it of one of the troopers admitting that they had pulled this person over about 40 minutes before the wreck," explains Renea, Kevin's sister.
An open records request revealed that the Department of Public Safety trooper Renea is talking about was Trooper Leland Borden.
The conversation recorded on dash camera video goes as follows:
Trooper Borden: I'm feeling bad right now. I stopped him 40 minutes ago.
Unidentified Trooper : Did you?
Trooper Borden: Yeah.
Unidentified Trooper: What was wrong with him?
Trooper Borden: No license. Smelled a little alcohol on him, but I couldn't --- you know --- wasn't nothing. I couldn't smell a lot on him, you know?
Trooper Borden: I was trying to get him to call somebody, and he tried calling somebody and nobody came. Do you sit there waiting on somebody to call --- you know? So I left. But I feel bad right now, you know?
Unidentified Trooper: Yeah. Did you do any field sobriety on him or anything?
Trooper Borden: He couldn't understand me.
After Trooper Borden walks away, you hear the unidentified trooper turn to another trooper working the crash and tell him what Borden just said.
Unidentified Trooper: Did you hear what just happened?
Other Trooper: What?
Unidentified Trooper: The trooper in Harrison County stopped this guy... let him go.
The Department of Public Safety's records show that 42 minutes prior to the wreck, Trooper Borden pulled Rodriguez over for going 85 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone. Trooper Borden also noted that Rodriguez was driving without a license.
"I don't understand it. I do not understand it," says Renea.
DPS' investigation records from the crash showed Rodriguez was under the influence. While doctors couldn't draw his blood after the crash, a sample of his eye fluid contained .19 grams of alcohol. That's equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of .152... nearly twice the legal limit to be behind the wheel.
"He couldn't make him understand the field sobriety. He should have called another officer or something," says Renea.
After requesting state law enforcement records, we learned that the trooper in question completed 51 hours of Spanish for law enforcement in 2008. Then, we requested every public personnel record DPS had on file for Trooper Borden. A thick stack of papers from Austin came with a copy of Borden's handwritten job application, every sick day and vacation day he has taken in his five years with the department, and in the middle of it all was one page that indicated that the DWI stop didn't go unnoticed.
Trooper Borden's 2012 performance evaluation report noted that he received formal counseling for not conducting a thorough DWI investigation. That same report stated that the public's needs were met and Trooper Borden met all of the department's expectations except when it came to investigative thoroughness. His performance wasn't labeled as unacceptable, but the department noted that "some improvement" was needed.
"If this officer... there wasn't any disciplinary action... I don't agree with that at all," says Renea.
There was no disciplinary action. DPS told us that themselves. We filed an open records request for the dash camera video of the initial stop... the one where Trooper Borden pulled Rodriguez over for speeding, smelled a little alcohol and let him go. Our request was denied. DPS told us, "the requested dash camera video, are part of investigations that did not result in disciplinary action being taken against a commissioned officer; therefore, the requested records are confidential and our office is prohibited by law from releasing this information to you."
"I know at some point I'm going to have to find some peace, and with the peace is going to have to come forgiveness," says Martha.
Martha and Renea say they're still a long way from forgiveness, but they're working toward it. Renea's tattoos that read "drive sober" remind people everywhere she goes that drunk driving not only ruins, but also ends lives. It's a decision that robbed Renea of years with her big brother
"He was like my superman... my superman. I feel like it's only going to get worse as the years go by," says Renea.
The Department of Public Safety headquarters in Austin said they couldn't comment because of pending litigation. We even emailed the director himself to be absolutely certain DPS had nothing to say to Texans, tax payers or Kevin's family.
In August, Martha filed a lawsuit against Trooper Borden and the night club that she believes over-served Rodriguez that night. Martha is still looking for answers. She wants to know what happened in that initial stop. It's video she says she needs to see.
"Everyone makes mistakes. None of us are perfect and I'm just really going to... I need some answers before I can get to my peace and I think the answers will help me get there," says Martha.
Answers are really all that Martha and Renea want. They say telling their story isn't about seeing Trooper Borden lose his job, because that's not what they want, and because that's not going to bring Kevin back.
We made numerous attempts to contact Trooper Borden both at work and at home. When we called him at work, he was out on patrol but we were told we could not leave a message for him; he knew this story would be airing and any comment would have to come directly from Austin.
Neither DPS nor Trooper Borden have responded to the lawsuit that was filed more than two months ago.
The story doesn't end here. KLTV is still actively trying to get a copy of the dash camera video of the initial stop through an appeal. It's video that will let both Kevin's family and the public know what really happened that night.
Tuesday, August 19 2014 4:10 PM EDT2014-08-19 20:10:07 GMT
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