‘Rolling coal’ – where a driver of a truck modifies their vehicle to enable it to emit thick clouds of black smoke (as shown in the above video) – constitutes assault, according to the District Attorney of a Texas county where on Saturday a teenage driver engaging in the practice crashed into six cyclists, two of whom needed to be airlifted to hospital.
A Special Prosecutor has been appointed to investigate Saturday’s crash near Houston, but police in Waller County have yet to make an arrest, provoking outrage among local cyclists, including some who were on the group ride, training for Ironman Texas, with several questioning whether the driver of the pick-up truck involved may be related to local law enforcement officials.
Writing on Facebook, Elton Mathis, the District Attorney of Waller County, said: “Your comments (even the less than flattering ones) have been instructive to this office on how prevalent the problem of ‘rolling coal’ is not only in Waller County, but across the nation.
“Rolling coal when a person is in the vicinity and when the individual rolling coal intentionally or knowingly causes that excess exhaust to contact that bystander is AT A MINIMUM an assault. They are causing their vehicle to ‘spit’ on a living, breathing, human being that is worthy of dignity and not having his or her person violated.
“That simple assault is easily elevated to a jail eligible offense if bodily injury occurs, which can be caused by entry of toxic particles into mouth, nose and eyes.
“Waller County law enforcement agencies all across the county are being reminded today of the availability of these and other charges which can be brought against individuals acting in such a criminal manner,” Mathis continued.
“The underlying investigation and gathering of evidence by Waller P.D. [Police Department] is still progressing. Thank you for your input and the positive exchanges we have seen to educate those who are ignorant of this commonplace occurrence,” he added.
Special Prosecutor Warren Diepraam, a former first assistant DA to Mathis and expert in vehicular homicide cases, has been appointed to the case, reports Click2Houston.com.
Rick DeToto, who is representing the driver, said in a statement: “The police did an investigation at the scene. This included speaking with eyewitnesses to the accident.
“After their investigation, they decided not to charge my client and did not even issue him a traffic ticket. Clearly, they determined a crime had not occurred,” he insisted.
“My client stopped immediately, called 911, attempted to render aid and co-operated with police.”
But Joe Cutrufo, Executive Director of Bike Houston, insisted that the driver needed to be held to account.
“We are afraid that if this driver gets away with it then other drivers in Waller County, or anywhere really, will be emboldened to attack, harass and threaten cyclists because they know they can get away with it,” he said.
In a statement, Charlie Thomas of Huber, Thomas, and Marcelle (Bike Law Texas) and Bike Law National’s founding attorney, Peter Wilborn, of Wilborn Law, who are jointly representing the six cyclists, said: “We hope that anyone who wants to share this horrific story with the public will be as interested at a later, more appropriate date, as they are now.
“And we hope that knowledge of this incident will change the way that people talk about bike crashes, and the impact they have on their victims’ lives. They are very different from automotive collisions. They are NOT ‘accidents’.
“Charlie, Peter, our entire Bike Law community, and I hope that increased awareness and accountability will encourage others to join us and our partnered organisations (like Bike Houston) in our fight to mitigate these kinds of events with legislative, procedural, and policy changes needed to improve safety and calm traffic for all road users, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
Waller County Police Department is continuing to investigate the case.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.