By Yang Wang and John Tedesco
From fender benders to fatalities, from fists flying to guns blazing, enraged drivers in the greater Houston area have caused more than 900 motor vehicle accidents that injured hundreds and killed five over the last five years, according to crash data from the Texas Department of Transportation.
Road-rage crashes across Texas peak during evening rush hour, with nearly one out of four occurring between 4 and 7 p.m. Most of the time, angry men are involved, and the most commonly used vehicle is a truck.
One such incident, on Oct. 19, 2010, ended in the shooting death of 49-year-old Ted Mitsakos after he honked at a black Chevrolet pickup for cutting him off near the Southwest Freeway and Beltway 8. Security cameras captured Mitsakos' white Dodge truck being aggressively chased by the Chevrolet's driver and shot at along the way.
After a bullet struck Mitsakos in the head, his truck hit an SUV, then smashed into an apartment bedroom at the Timbers of Keegans Bayou complex on West Bellfort.
"They chased him all the way for miles and shot eight times to make sure he is dead? The whole thing is crazy," said Melanie Zeroni, Mitsakos' widow.
Jose Gerado Silva, 25, has been charged with murder, and police are seeking more suspects.
HPD turns to stealth
The 900 road-rage crashes reported by the DOT include only altercations that involve vehicle accidents. Overall, crashes in Houston and Texas decreased from 2007 through 2011.
The Houston Police Department credits the use of stealth vehicles to target aggressors.
"Most aggressive drivers don't realize they are passing a police vehicle until it's too late," said HPD spokesman John Cannon. "We'd like to think these efforts have helped to keep the numbers stable."
The decrease in crashes surprised some.
"I wouldn't think road rage or aggressive driving is decreasing, especially in large metropolitan areas when we have more serious traffic congestion, which is certainly a trigger," said Scott Cooner, a research engineer at Texas Transportation Institute who studies road construction to reduce accidents.
Houston's largest likely spots for angry drivers - where incidents have happened repeatedly - are in the Galleria area and on U.S. 59 between Kirby and Weslayan, according to the Chronicle's analysis of the data.
San Antonio's Bexar County cited road rage as a contributing factor in 680 wrecks, more than the 596 in Harris County and the 545 in Tarrant County.
It's unclear whether the crash figures reflect a higher number of angry drivers in Bexar County or whether local police are more apt to flag some accidents as "road rage" compared to officers in other jurisdictions.
Harris County law enforcement authorities say they regularly receive 911 calls about road rage, sometimes three or more a day.
"We had 40 calls so far in July," said Thomas Gilliland, the spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff's office. "A main thing we respond to is aggressive driving. Vehicles cut each other off or even chasing on roadways."
Sometimes angry motorists simply pull over and start fighting or shooting.
In March 2011, two angry Houston drivers pulled over into a Korner Food Mart parking lot in southwest Houston. The argument that ensued started after one woman had cut in front of another. As it escalated, the younger of the two women pulled a gun and shot the other.
Carol Grant, 49, a home health care worker, died at the scene. The 31-year-old shooter claimed self-defense and has not yet been charged.
In road-rage cases, charges against drivers vary. There's no specific criminal charge for road rage in Texas. And many drivers go unpunished because of the difficulty of proving their emotional state.
Out of 230 accidents in Texas that involved injuries last year, police didn't pursue criminal charges in 60 percent, according to the newspaper's review.
On a fall day last year in Bexar County, Randy Nelson was driving his 2-year-old son, Braylon, home from day care when he suddenly heard screeching tires and saw a white vehicle careening toward them.
Nelson's foot went to the brake pedal. Then came the jarring smack of the collision that stopped his Saturn SL2 cold.
Nelson hadn't seen the two dueling motorists heading his way in the oncoming lanes.
A pickup driven by Robert Jay Brown, 47, was chasing and tailgating another truck driven by Armando Garza, 40, according to a police report. Both were speeding.
Nelson and his son survived, but the boy is paralyzed from the neck down.
"To me, it doesn't make sense," Nelson said. "Some people just don't get it."
The Leon Law Firm reminds everyone that part of being a safe driver includes not letting your emotions get in the way of your driving. We have all experienced anger directed at unsafe drivers who share the road with us. It is important to drive defensively and not try to go out and "right a wrong" committed against us on the road. Two wrongs don't make a right and the consequences of a hasty decision to go out and get revenge can lead to devastating consequences. If you or someone you love has been injured by an unsafe driver, please call the Leon Law Firm for a consultation.