AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department is investigating more rock-throwing incidents along Interstate 35, north of downtown, after a months-long reprieve in the dangerous trend.
A woman driving on the interstate about 2:40 a.m. Sunday said a rock was thrown down at her car from the 32nd Street overpass, striking her windshield. Most the cases were reported between 30th and 40th streets on I-35.
“There’s glass literally everywhere in here,” said Lane Peleschak, who believes her dad — who passed away five years ago — was watching over her Sunday morning. “What are the chances a rock hits your windshield and you come out completely uninjured?”
The incident happened as she was driving home from downtown.
“All I heard was the bang against the windshield and the glass flying everywhere,” Peleschak added. “My whole chest was covered in shattered glass, and I had it all over my hair.”
After pulling over and calling 911, she remembered past stories about rock-throwing along I-35 and questioned police about how often it was still happening.
“There was … almost a cessation of the activity, and then we’ve had a few,” said Austin Police Sgt. Jim Kettleman. “So it’s almost like it’s starting back up again.”
In 2014, there were nearly two dozen reported incidents of rocks and debris striking cars. Police are also looking into five cases since February.
“If I had known, I would not have taken that direction home that night,” Peleschak said.
The incidents have not only left cars damaged, but they have also left several people injured. Kenneth Johnson was seriously injured in June 2014 when a rock smashed through his windshield. Johnson went through rehab to recover from his injuries.
“He does better weekly,” said Kenneth Johnson’s aunt, Julia Murphrey. “He surprises me every week. He’s either a little quicker or just a little more mobile.”
Murphrey says Johnson can’t talk yet, but he is walking with help from a cane. Family and friends plan to hold a benefit for Kenneth.
“There [have] been suspects,” said Kettleman. “There have been people we’ve looked at. We have not been able to hold someone accountable at this point.”
Family and friends of Johnson tell KXAN News they would like the city to set up cameras along the interstate. Peleschak agreed — with the need for more security.
“What’s it going to take for them to actually put cameras up, or whatever is needed to try to prevent this in the future?” Peleschak said. “At the end, you have to look at it as: We are saving a life in the future.”
APD officials say they do not have any cameras in its HALO system directed in that area. Most of Austin’s HALO cameras focus on areas from Fourth to Seventh streets in Downtown Austin. Officers say they might add more cameras in the near future. The last time the Austin City Council approved adding cameras, they cost about $75,000 each. The cameras also come with maintenance costs. APD operates 41 of the cameras throughout the city, which cost about $44,000 a year for upkeep.
“The fastest response that we can do is an increase in manpower in the area. So, that’s one of the first things that any time we have a trend; that’s going to be way ahead of anything else, is that we can redirect our manpower,” said Kettleman.
Police advise drivers to immediately call police when they find a safe place to pull over. Calling as soon as possible will allow investigators to collect evidence.