Nov 3, 2022 - News

Scoop: Houston cop suspended for releasing driver

A stop sign at the corner of Bringman and West 25th streets

Ryan Lutz was hit near the intersection of Brinkman and West 25th streets. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

A Houston police officer was suspended for releasing a driver who crashed into a pedestrian who later died.

Catch up quick: In April, Prateek Kumar was driving in the Heights when he collided with 35-year-old Ryan Lutz.

  • Minutes after senior officer Jason Campbell let him leave the scene, Kumar hit a parked car.
  • After the second crash, Kumar was charged with driving while intoxicated, indicating he was too intoxicated to drive during the first crash.
  • Kumar was also later found to have fentanyl and other drugs in his system.

Driving the news: Houston Police Department internal affairs investigators say Campbell violated department policy and crash scene procedure while investigating the collision, according to an HPD interoffice memo from Chief Troy Finner obtained by Axios.

  • Campbell was handed a 10-day suspension, which started Oct. 24. Tuesday marked the last day before he could return.
  • HPD declined to comment to Axios.
  • The Houston Police Officers' Union did not respond to Axios' request for comment. Campbell has not made any public statements about the incident.

Flashback: Lutz was walking his dog along the 900 block of West 25th Street early April 5 when police say Kumar struck him from behind with a black Chevrolet pickup.

  • Kumar stopped and waited for the police, according to the memo. Lutz was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died 10 days later. His dog also died.

The intrigue: Campbell, who is assigned to HPD's Vehicular Crimes Division, was called to investigate the collision and determine if Kumar had broken the law.

  • During a sobriety test, Kumar's eyes jerked back and forth.
  • Kumar told Campbell he was ill and tired. Campbell believed him, according to the memo.
  • The driver also gave conflicting statements to officers — at first, Kumar said he didn't see Lutz or his dog, but later said he saw the dog pulling Lutz into the street.

Of note: Campbell requested a drug-recognition expert (DRE) come to the scene, but none were available.

  • "Officer Campbell should have investigated further and transported [Kumar] to the Joint Processing Center, where a breath test could be administered, a DRE could then be requested, and an evaluation could be administered at a designated DWI facility video room," Finner and investigators wrote in the memo.
  • Instead, Campbell released Kumar from custody and allowed him to keep driving. Three minutes later, Kumar crashed into a parked Tesla less than a quarter mile down the street.
  • The officer investigating the second crash noticed Kumar wasn't acting right and placed him into custody for DWI, per the memo.

What we're watching: Whether additional charges are filed against Kumar. No charges have been filed in connection with the pedestrian incident.


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