APD Faulted in Hit-and-Run
According to the Austin Police Dept., the hit-and-run accident at the end of the Gay Pride Parade on June 7 was caused by a drunk driver who got tired of waiting for the parade to pass over the Congress Avenue bridge and drove around the parade's police escort, careening through the crowd and hitting marcher Matthew Smith. The driver, Christopher Kozun, was promptly stopped by police and charged with DWI and failing to render aid. But several parade participants -- including Smith -- and at least one parade spectator allege that the accident was likely the result of a lack of police presence along the parade route.
"Clearly there was a lack of security, which created some danger," said Steve Basile, a parade watcher who ended up directing traffic at the corner of Fourth and Lavaca. Basile said he was waiting for the parade to pass at a Fourth Street bar. As it progressed west toward Lavaca, he said, he noticed that a number of cars were interspersed among the paraders, and he realized there weren't any cops to help direct traffic around the parade as it made a right turn onto Lavaca. "I'm a take-action guy, so I jumped up and started directing traffic," he said. "And it just got weirder and weirder." Basile said that at least two cop cars drove past him while he was in the intersection, but neither stopped to help or to take over directing the traffic. "They never said anything," he said. "So, at least two public-safety officers, with radios, knew there was a civilian in the street directing traffic."
According to APD spokesman Kevin Buchman, there were officers along the entire route and motorcycle officers following from behind. Despite Basile's account that he was at the corner as the parade arrived at the Fourth Street intersection, Buchman suggested that perhaps Basile saw stragglers at the end of the parade, after the officer stationed there had already moved on. Still, Buchman said that if police presence appeared slim along the route, it was likely due to the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's underestimation of the parade's size when filing for the parade permit. Buchman said that the permit was for 10 floats with 25 vehicles and 400 pedestrians. In reality, he said, the parade had 60 floats and well over 400 pedestrians. AGLCC parade coordinator Chad Ballard did not respond to our requests for comment. Nonetheless, said Buchman, there were police at all the intersections, because they are "critical" for police to cover during a parade.
Of course, that doesn't explain how Kozun got his Jeep into the parade. Smith says he was walking south over the Congress Avenue Bridge when he heard a noise. "He hit me before I realized he was coming," Smith said. The wheel of the car caught Smith's foot, tearing off his sock and part of his shoe before knocking him to the ground. (Paramedics treated him at the scene, but last week a doctor found some internal bruising, he said.) Parade participant Bonn Ramsey videotaped the event, including the hit-and-run, and said she doesn't understand how Kozun was able to get into the crowd if indeed police were actively manning the intersections. "The cops didn't even know anyone was hit until the 911 calls came in," she said. At press time, police were still investigating the incident.