APD searching for interstate rock-throwing suspects

Police say a rock thrown from a bridge caused this crash.
Police say a rock thrown from a bridge caused this crash.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department is asking for the public’s help in finding the person they say is throwing rocks onto Interstate 35.

At least four people were injured in June and July when a rock was thrown through their windshield, according to police.

The first incident happened on June 14 and it happened to three other drivers again on July 27 between 38th and 40th streets on the lower deck of Interstate 35 between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.

One of the victims, 36-year-old Kenneth Johnson is still in the hospital with serious injuries. KXAN spoke to his friends and family who say they want the rock thrower caught before someone else gets hurt, or even killed.

“I can’t believe someone would do this,” said Jasper Carbajal who spends his days visiting his friend Kenneth Johnson in the hospital. Johnson was driving home from work late one night last month when police say a large rock went flying through his windshield. “Someone did this deliberately. It wasn’t on accident…it’s horrible.”

Johnson’s father, too upset to talk on camera, says his son now has brain damage. He even had to have part of his skull removed.

“He has ruined a lot of people’s lives,” Carbajal said of the person responsible. “He’s ruined my friend’s life. He almost killed him…he almost died from this.”

“When we’re talking about highway speeds of 60, 70 miles per hour, that rock is hitting you full force,” said Det. Jarrett Crippen with the Austin Police Department. “If it’s coming through your windshield it can cause serious damage to the body, vehicle or even death.”

“It’s scary someone would do this,” Carbajal added. “They need to be caught.”

Weeks later, Michael Pena was driving along the interstate when the object hit the front of his F-150 Ford truck.

“I heard a thump,” he said. “I pulled over thinking it was a blown tire, and found a hole in my grill and through two radiators under the hood.” He also found a rock the size of a softball.

Pena was in the lead of a line of cars around 4 a.m. and has a theory. “If I had been in a car it would have smashed my windshield. I probably would have reacted the wrong way and there would have been a pileup behind me. I think they may be trying to cause accidents.”

Police said the attacks appear to be random and they are now looking to beef up patrols on that stretch of the interstate to help catch the person responsible.

If you have any information contact the Austin Police Department.

If you would like to help with Johnson’s medical expenses, friends and family will be holding two benefits for him this weekend.

  • The first one will be Saturday at the Lost Well beginning at 6 p.m.
  • The other will be Sunday at the Red Eyed Fly beginning at 3 p.m.
  • Bands will be playing music and there will be raffles.

Rock-throwing from overpasses not uncommon

Rock throwing incidents happen often around the country. Earlier this month police near Weatherford, Texas arrested two teenagers accused of throwing rocks and railroad spikes at cars on I-20. One spike hit a woman in the face. She is recovering and the teenagers face charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

And two other teenagers in White Deer Township, Pennsylvania face charges after a rock throwing incident along I-80. Police say they were throwing rocks at cars; one hit a woman in the head leaving her critically hurt.

In order to cut down on people throwing rocks, other cities and states have put up fences on overpasses. A Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman said it would not be feasible in Austin to put up fences because the city has so many elevated structures.

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