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Dozens Have Died In High-Speed Police Chases On Texas Border

A Georgia couple died this month on a Texas highway in a fiery crash with an oncoming car that was carrying migrants and fleeing a sheriff’s deputy. “I blame the sheriff’s department because they were chasing at a really high speed in a location that was really dangerous,” said their son, Jairo Lerma. “This could have been avoided.” Police departments across the U.S. have been reassessing when to pursue fleeing suspects, adopting policies to curtail dangerous high-speed chases. In Texas, the state police and sheriffs have been notable exceptions, retaining discretion to give chase when officers deem it appropriate. The approach differs from big city departments in the state, including in Houston, where police have barred pursuits for minor offenses. The number of chases in Texas has gone up sharply starting in 2021, when Gov. Greg Abbott began Operation Lone Star and sent thousands of state police officers to patrol around the border, reports the New York Times.

The chases, which often erupt suddenly from traffic stops, have left dozens dead and scores injured, including bystanders, rattling border cities from El Paso to Brownsville. High-speed chases are part of Abbott’s aggressive approach to a surge in migrant arrivals at the border, a strategy that has led to clashes with the Biden administration. The federal government has looked into the actions by Texas police during Operation Lone Star, though no broad action has been taken to curtail the program. In Zavala County, where Lerma’s parents were killed, residents have contended with a sharp uptick in chases. The state police conducted at least 175 vehicle pursuits in Zavala County during the first two years of Operation Lone Star. In the year before the border enforcement program, there were seven. “It’s dangerous,” said Paul Rodriguez, who runs a roadside taco truck with his wife on U.S. Highway 57, where many chases have occurred. The owner of a towing company, who has had steady business hauling the wrecked vehicles used by fleeing migrant smugglers, advises his family not to drive on Highway 57. The mayor of Crystal City, the largest community in the sparsely populated county, said he avoids the road altogether after having seen the gnarled remains of pursuits.


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