The Independence Day “road rage incident” in Texas that left two children severely burned didn’t have to happen, Harris County police say.
The confrontation between the suspect who caused the children’s injuries and their father lasted for about 20 minutes — long enough for either man to have walked away before harm was done, said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez in a Monday press conference.
It all began with an everyday rudeness on the highway, said Gonzalez: “Somebody cut someone off.”
Next, the two male drivers “exchanged words” and pulled into a gas station parking lot, according to Violent Crimes Unit Deputy Tom Turner.
Both men got out of their vehicles and a long argument ensued. During their verbal skirmish, Bayron J. Rivera, 18, took out a firearm. At this point, his opponent returned to his car and started to drive away with his wife and two children and the bundle of fireworks he had just purchased.
Here, Rivera fired into the car. One of the rounds hit the fireworks, causing them to explode and “catching the vehicle on fire,” said Turner.
Engulfed in flames, the father hit the brakes. Some “good Samaritans” came to the rescue, helping the family from the car, and then taking them to a nearby urgent care clinic. While the parents were transported to a hospital, the children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old, sustained “severe burns,” said Turner. They needed to be life flighted to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Rivera, who surrendered to the police, is now in custody and will be charged with four counts of aggravated assault, Gonzalez said on Sunday. An AR-15 that is “consistent with evidence we found at the scene” was recovered by police, said Gonzalez, who noted that further testing will be done on the weapon. (An AR-15 is a “popular” semiautomatic rifle used by hunters and competitors as well as for self-defense purposes, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group.)
On Monday, Lt. Jeff Stauber of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said Rivera, who claims he did not know two children were in the car, had been “very cooperative.”
When recounting the entire tragic episode, Stauber emphasized the timing: “It started as a road rage incident. Both parties had an opportunity to break it off. Then we had the actual incident.” The investigation is ongoing, he said.
Gonzalez said that in the future, the Good Samaritans who helped at the scene, will be recognized for making sure no one died.
Meanwhile, the children and their parents, who were also burned by the fire, are still recovering from their injuries and all are currently stable. “They face a very long recovery, especially the two children,” said Gonzalez, who described them as the “true innocent” victims of this crime.