HPD chief: 24-year-old officer ‘not out of the woods, but holding on’ after struck during traffic stop on Southwest Freeway

HOUSTON-- A Houston police officer was critically injured after being struck by a driver in southwest Houston early Wednesday.

Police said Officer Nestor Garcia, 24, pulled over a stolen vehicle on the Southwest Freeway and Greenbriar and was standing in the emergency lane of the highway.

While Garcia was standing outside his vehicle, police say 79-year-old Robert Zimmerman struck the officer, dragging him.

Police said Zimmerman ignored all emergency lights when he barreled through, traveling at a dangerous speed when emergency vehicles are present.

"This suspect that drove through that scene knew that there were police officers on the highway. Saw the lights, saw the police officers, saw the cars, saw the officers standing out in the lane for this stop that was in front of him," HPD Chief Art Acevedo said. "And despite that, entered that scene at 50 or 60 miles per hour. So I don't care if he is intoxicated or not intoxicated, that's reckless."

Garcia was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, suffering injuries to his head and abdomen, in addition to sustaining multiple fractures.

Acevedo updated the public during a press conference about Garcia's progress after surgery. The chief explained that the officer was still critical and not out of the woods, but still holding on.

The chief then sent a stern warning to drivers.

"I think the lesson we need to learn is number one; you don't want to be drinking and driving and number two; when you see those emergency lights on the highway, on the street, it does not mean to enter that scene at 50 to 60 miles per hour because you are putting people at risk," Acevedo said. "That officer should not be fighting for his life. It happened because, too often, people in this city or around the country think that getting to their destination or whatever their priority is, is more important than the safety of fellow roadway users, and in this instance, police officers in full uniforms with police cars that are marked. There is no excuse for this to have happened."

Acevedo said he will pursue the maximum amount of charges against the suspect.

"I just want everyone to know, as long as I am a police chief here, when you do things like this we are going to push hard to make sure folks are charged with felonies and be held accountable," Acevedo said.

"Our prayers are with our HPD family and with Officer Garcia's family," District Attorney Kim Ogg said. "Houston is a driving city and often, Houstonians take their cars for granted. Cars can be deadly weapons when they are used negligently, recklessly, or intentionally as weapons and they can cause great damage as much as a gun or a knife."

Ogg said they are awaiting toxicology reports before announcing specifics charges against Zimmerman. Charges will likely be assault of a public servant, and any intoxicated-related add-ons.

"Intoxicated or otherwise, anybody who would blow through police officers with cars and lights flashing at the scene; whether it's on a freeway or at the front of your house, we expect the public to respect that crime scene and to take care and not further injure our first responders," Ogg said. "The point is that anything driving this recklessly in Houston and causes this kind of damage is going to be arrested and prosecuted."

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