Police use a trash bag to clear a scene where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a bus in downtown San Antonio.
Police use a trash bag to clear a scene where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a bus in downtown San Antonio in 2019. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

It happens so often in San Antonio. On March 25 and then again on March 29, a pedestrian was fatally struck by a driver who then fled the scene.

In a city that ranks last among Texas among major metro areas for pedestrian and cyclist safety, according to the most recent data by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), two fatalities in the space of five days were hardly big news.

No elected official made public statements of condolence to the families of the two victims. No one called for changes to how San Antonio addresses its drunk driving epidemic, or how unsafe our streets are for people walking and cycling. For days, the victims went nameless.

The first tragedy occurred around 1:30 a.m. March 25, according to San Antonio police, who reported an unidentified driver of a Tesla Model 3 had struck and killed a pedestrian in Southtown before crashing into a building and then fleeing on foot.

Residents of the pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood, which hosts large gatherings of people for First Friday celebrations each month and is on the route of the popular SATX Social Ride each Tuesday evening, awakened Sunday to the unsettling news.

The pedestrian was later identified as Erik Michael Moody, 36. Moody was on a sidewalk near the Blue Star Arts Complex when he was fatally struck, pronounced dead at the scene from skull injuries.

A passenger in the Tesla, who also fled, later contacted police, according to a KSAT-TV report, and said Robert Castillo, age 29, a friend who was behind the wheel, was “inebriated” and armed with a handgun and moments earlier had confronted a driver who cut him off by running a red light near South Alamo Street and the expressway. Castillo, the unnamed passenger said,  pursued the other vehicle to the intersection of South Alamo and South Flores streets, where an argument ensued that ended when the other driver saw Castillo had a pistol on his lap and took off.

As Castillo drove off, the passenger said, they heard gunshots they believed were coming from the other driver, causing the passenger to duck down. He said Castillo’s vehicle jumped the sidewalk and then crashed into a building near the intersection of South Alamo and Probandt.

Castillo has since been arrested and jailed on a $100,000 bond.

The second incident occurred shortly after midnight on Wednesday on the West Side, when a man was struck crossing Culebra Road at Northwest 36th Street by a driver in a white pickup truck who paused at the scene, according to witness reports, and then fled. The victim, David Treviño, 43, was not in a crosswalk, even though Culebra is known as one of the city’s most dangerous streets for pedestrian crossings. One vehicle had stopped to let the pedestrian cross safely, but he was then struck by the moving pickup truck. As family members began to gather at the scene, the driver of the white pickup returned, perhaps remorseful at fleeing. Andrew Jason Gonzalez, 50, was arrested and charged by police, who said he refused to cooperate with the investigation, according to a KSAT-TV report.

The latest two hit-and-runs and failure to stop and render aid follow a Nov. 6 incident in which City Councilman (D10) Clayton Perry was charged with driving while intoxicated and failing to stop and render aid after striking another vehicle whose occupants were not seriously hurt. Police released an affidavit based on video evidence taken from a Northside bar that showed Perry reportedly consumed 14 drinks in four hours.

Police found an incoherent Perry lying in the backyard of his residence, his head bleeding and his vehicle’s engine still running while parked in the driveway after hitting his garage door. Perry faces a Class B misdemeanor charge. In the face of the pending charges, Perry recently announced he will not seek reelection in May, but he continues to hold office and attend City Council meetings.

The record for pedestrians and cyclists in Texas is among the worst in the nation. Only Florida and California report higher numbers. TxDOT reported a record number of traffic fatalities, which totaled 4,496 statewide, in 2021. What is seldom noted is that 935 of those fatalities were pedestrians or cyclists struck by motor vehicles. From 2017 to 2021, TxDOT statistics show, pedestrian fatalities rose 34% and cycling fatalities rose 58%.

The Vision Zero crash map tracks the amount of suspected serious injuries and deaths that occur on Bexar County roads.
The Vision Zero crash map tracks the amount of suspected serious injuries and deaths that occur on Bexar County roads. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

The San Antonio Express-News did some excellent reporting on the city’s drunk driving problem and the frequency that Bexar County prosecutors agree to plea bargains on a reduced charge that puts drunk drivers back on the streets behind the wheel.

There were 626 reports of vehicles striking pedestrians in the San Antonio area in 2021, resulting in 88 fatalities and 132 serious injuries, according to TxDOT. That same year there were 312 reports of vehicles hitting cyclists, causing eight fatalities and 22 serious injuries. That comes out to 18 people on foot or bikes being struck by vehicle drivers every week in the metro area.

As March came to a close last week, TxDOT’s yearlong Be Safe, Drive Smart campaign ended. I only heard about the campaign late in the month via an Austin public relations agency working on behalf of TxDOT. If you click on the link, you’ll find a list of naive messages about driver courtesy, buckling up and putting down mobile devices.

As an experienced cyclist in the city I can state two factors that contribute to less road safety: One, the city ordinance prohibiting cellphone use while driving is loosely enforced at best, and two, the number of people smoking pot while driving is notably on the rise with decriminalization. 

It is becoming increasingly unsafe to walk or cycle in this fast-growing, sprawling city. Former City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and her husband, Kevin Barton, both committed cyclists, are credited with introducing San Antonio to the Vision Zero program in 2015, which promotes a goal of zero pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. It’s a noble cause, but the city streets are engineered for vehicles, with few protected bike lanes, and many streets in inner city neighborhoods still without sidewalks.

The numbers don’t lie. It’s getting worse here, not better.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.