By David Paulin
It was one of the strangest hit-and-runs police had ever seen in Austin, Texas. Early last September, officers answering a call at 4:19 a.m. found a young man dead along a highway. They surmised he was a motorcyclist. He was, after all, wearing motorcycle garb – a helmet, black-leather jacket, boots. A few hundred feet from the body, officers spotted a single skid mark running down the highway, and disappearing from sight. Oddly, no motorcycle could be found. A check of the victim's driver's license revealed his name: Eric M. Laufer.
Laufer, 25, was a highly-regarded musician and songwriter in Austin – and unlike many musicians here, the graduate of Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music was politically conservative. Laufer's political leanings and interest in politics were a new passion, say his friends. He'd enthusiastically supported the presidential candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas who, among other positions, advocated a get-tough policy on illegal immigration and border security.
Laufer made no secret of his political views, even though open-borders Austin is a bastion of ultra-liberal politics -- and often extremely intolerant of Republicans. On his Harley-Davidson, he prominently displayed a campaign sticker: “Ron Paul for President 2008.” And even after Paul dropped out of the race months ago, Laufer continued sporting the sticker. It was on his motorcycle when he died – the victim, ironically, of an “undocumented worker” most likely from Mexico. Laufer's motorcycle was rear-ended by a SUV traveling at a tremendous rate of speed. He was killed instantly.
Laufer died amid an epidemic of deadly hit-and-runs in Austin, the state capital. It's being fueled in part by illegal immigrants and unassimilated young Hispanics -young men who, according to police arrest records, engage in drunk driving in this city of 740,000 much more frequently than other ethnic and racial groups.
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WARRANT OF ARREST
THE STATE OF TEXAS TO ANY PEACE OFFICER OF THE STATE OF TEXAS, GREETINGS:
YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED TO ARREST:
JOSE LUIS DORANTES
If to be found in your county and bring him before me, a Judge, at the Austin Municipal Court, Travis County, Texas, at my office in Austin, in the said county, Travis, then and there to answer the State of Texas for an offense against the laws of said state, to-wit
2nd Degree Felony
of which offense he is accused by the written complaint, filed before me under oath of Detective C. Francois #3371.
AFFIDAVIT FOR WARRANT OF ARREST AND DETENTION
Undersigned Affiant, Who After Being Duly Sworn By Me, On Oath, Makes The Following Statement: I have good reason to believe and do believe that Jose Luis Dorantes, WM, 10-13-87, on or about the 4th day of Sept 2008, in the incorporated limits of the City of Austin, County Travis and the State of Texas, did then and there commit the offense of:
Manslaughter - 2nd Degree Felony
My belief of the foregoing statement is based upon information provided to me by Austin Police Report 2008-2480294 and follow up investigation. On Sept. 4, 2008 at approximately 04:19, APD officers responded to a crash in the 8400 block of Research north bound proper. The caller stated that there was a male down; he was possibly hit by a vehicle and he had possibly been riding a motorcycle. Officers arrived to find Eric M. Laufer, WM, 11-07-82, deceased on the side of the road.
In the lane next to the body was a single tire mark. This mark identified the area o f impact and direction of travel. There were no pre-impact skid marks. This skid mark continued for 6,168.5 feet, or 1.1 6 miles. At the end of this tire mark, on a traffic island near Burnet Rd., was a wrecked 2003 Harley Davidson motorcycle registered to Eric M. Laufer. It had significant rear end damage. The rear tire had been ground to the point that it lost structural integrity. Crumpled between the rear t ire and the frame of the motorcycle was a Texas license plate - Z23JXB. This plate returned to a 1995 GMC Yukon at 1904 Hearthstone #---, Austin.
Affiant immediately went to this location and found said GMC with matching rear license plate and front end damage consistent with a motorcycle collision. The registered owner states that Jose Luis Dorantes, WM,10-13-87 had control, care, and custody of the GMC during the time in question.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2008. witness A. Coy stated that he saw a blue SUV exit Research at Burnet at 80-85 MPH. The SUV had a motorcycle attached to the front of it.
The Travis County Medical Examiner report states that Laufer's "mid brain is nearly transected near its attachment to the pons" and "the heart is avulsed from all of its vascular attachments and is lying free within the left pleural cavity. "
It was reckless of Dorantes to strike Laufer from behind. It was reckless of Dorantes to not engage in effective emergency braking before hitting Lafuer. It was reckless of Dorantes to be traveling at a speed excessive enough to rip Laufer's heart loose and nearly internally decapitate him. It was reckless of Dorantes to ignore the body of Laufer on the motorcycle and hood of his vehicle for approximately 317 feet. It was further reckless of Dorantes to drive for 6,168.5 feet with the motorcycle pinned upright to the front of his SUV after impact; ignoring the sound and smell of burning rubber and the riderless motorcycle just a few feet in front of his face.
Affiant believes Jose Luis Dorantes, WM, 10-13-87, violated Texas Penal Code 19.04, Manslaughter, by recklessly operating a 1995 GMC SUV and striking and killing Eric M. Laufer in the 8400 blk of Research, a public street, in Austin, Travis County.
Author's Note: I removed the apartment number for Jose Luis Dorantes' friends at 1904 Hearthstone, although the number is contained in the original affidavit.
Where's a cop when you need one?
On a recent Friday afternoon, I was driving in stop-and-go traffic when I got rear-ended by a young man: He was driving an old Lexus with bad brakes, and he was for Mexico. For some reason, he preferred not to deal with the cops.
He needn't have worried: The cops never responded to a call for assistance.
I'd just stopped my prized second-generation Acura Integra in front of another car. I glanced into my rear-view mirror – at the same second the Lexus was barreling straight at me. The driver's mouth was a agape.
A loud thump. My car jolted violently, then careened into the car in front of me. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon on a busy traffic artery, Lamar Blvd. Nobody was hurt.
“Dame it!” I blurted out.
I unbuckled my seatbelt, and I got out. The driver hit me, a slight guy in his late 30s with curly dark hair, walked nervously up to me. Apologizing profusely, he offered me a handshake. But I pretended not to notice the gesture. I despise irresponsible drivers, and I was angry.
“What happened?” I said curtly.
He was talkative and seemed eager to establish a rapport with me – too eager, I thought. After a few minutes, he mentioned that his car – an aging weather-beaten red Lexus -- was borrowed. He also admitted that its brakes were bad; that's what had supposedly caused the accident. He mentioned he was from Mexico, noting this fact with a trace of pride. He spoke remarkably good English and could have been a Texan.
To my surprise, my Acura seemed not to have suffered any obvious damage. But that wasn't the case with the car I'd hit, which was in like-new condition. It had suffered some scratches, according to the driver and passenger. And who could argue with them: Both were lawyers.
The driver, a middle-aged woman with short brown hair, had been driving her boss to the same place where I was heading – Austin's Criminal Justice Center. They needed to get there in a hurry: Deadline-type legal matters, she explained. Coincidentally, I was driving there to get a copy of an arrest warrant for Jose Luis Dorantes – the alleged hit-and-run driver whom police say killed a well-known local musician, Eric Laufer.
The woman lawyer noted her colleague used a wheel chair, and so she pulled it out of the car's trunk and wheeled it to his door. He eased himself into the chair -- a middle-aged man with Asian features. He called the police on his cell phone.
The driver who'd hit me was growing increasingly nervous. He said he preferred not to deal with the police for various reasons. He didn't elaborate, but if there was any damage he said he'd be grateful if we could work something out.
I shook my head. I preferred to file a report with the police, I said. Surely, a cop would be by in a few minutes, I thought. After all, our three cars were blocking one of two traffic-choked lanes of Lamar Blvd. at about 3:30 in the afternoon. A line of bumper-to-bumper traffic inched past us.
As I stood by my Acura speaking with the Lexus driver, the woman lawyer walked up and handed me her colleague's cell phone. The police dispatcher was on the line, she said, so I could give her my information. Meanwhile, the lawyer took the Lexus driver over to her car, and together they inspected the scratches on her rear bumper.
As I gave the police dispatcher a blow-by-blow, I noticed the Lexus driver opening his wallet: He handed the woman lawyer some money.
Some 30 minutes after the accident, the lawyers left a business card with me, and they drove off. They had their deadline to meet. For my part, I was determined to report the accident: The driver who'd hit me should not be on the road, I felt.
I copied down his name and driver's license number from his Mexican driver's license. However, he kept asking me for a favor: Could we work out something, anything to keep the police form getting involved?
He'd given the lawyers $20, he said. He opened his wallet to show me a few more bills – a few tens and twenties. But I wasn't interested in money. I shook my head. I wondered how long I could keep him there, however. Obviously, he was anxious to leave. I'd been unable to point to any damage on my Acura.
Up and down Lamar, no patrol car was in sight. I didn't have my cell phone with me -- so I couldn't phone the police to see when they'd be coming. Finally, after 45 to 50 minutes, I lost my patience.
“OK, let's forget it,” I said. “Just be sure you don't drive behind me!” I added. He assured me he wouldn't.
I felt bad that an officer might be showing up at any minute, wasting his time after we'd gone. But what else could I do? Certainly, I couldn't hang around forever on Lamar Blvd., blocking traffic and keeping a guy there who was anxious to leave.
Nearly two hours later, after visiting the Criminal Justice Center, I drove over to the Austin Police Department, just a few blocks away. I wanted to report the accident.
At the front desk, a taciturn police officer spent a few minutes looking up the report I'd made. And then he shocked me with this admission: A patrol car had not yet been dispatched to the accident scene!
Incredibly, the officer not only said this with a straight face -- he said I needed to be understanding. The police department, he explained, had been undergoing a shift change when the accident was called in – and so delays were to be expected.
This was obviously one stupid cop, a guy who did not understand the first thing about “to protect and to serve.” But I just nodded and held my tongue. He seemed like the kind of cop with whom you shouldn't argue.
Look, I explained, I had all the information they might need for the accident: license plate numbers; the Lexus driver's name (Alejandro Patino Sanchez); his Mexican driver's license number, etc. However, the officer pointed out that all the parties had left the accident scene – and in such cases it was presumed the motorists had amicably resolved things.
Sensing my displeasure, the officer handed me a form to fill out: I took it, smiled, and walked out. Outside, I tossed it into a trash can. I was not going to waste any more of my time.
And so it goes in Austin, Texas.
Today, a young man with issues that he'd prefer to keep from the police may be driving around a Lexus (Texas tags: DJX095) with bad brakes. With guys like that in Austin, you can understand why Austin's vehicular homicide unit is so busy.
Austin Police Crack Down on Dangerous Motorists
Motorists and pedestrians in Austin face two big hazards, according to the police – drunk drivers and motorists who run red lights. Now, the police are targeting both offenses.
Recently, Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that motorists who declined to take a breathalyzer test – 50 percent refuse -- would have their blood drawn. And what if they refuse the blood test? The police chief said they'd face even more charges than they otherwise would have faced.
Predictably, rights activists are calling the new policy a violation of civil liberties. So are some local attorneys who specialize in defending drunk drivers and getting them off on legal technicalities.
Why do lots of motorists drive drunk in Austin? According to the police chief: "Life is about choices, and sadly too many Austinites, too many Texans and too many Americans are making bad choices when it comes to drinking and driving."
He added, "Our hope is to save lives, to prevent destruction and to change behavior." He made no comment on police statistics regarding which group of Austin residents has the biggest problem with drunk driving.
To combat motorist running red lights, the city also has been installing cameras at various intersections, with the idea that they'll snap photos of motorists – and their license plates – as they race through a red light. Some civil libertarians are upset with that initiative, too.
According to some Austin residents, if the police did a better job of traffic enforcement, the cameras wouldn't be necessary.