Crash survivor wants day in court
From staff reports
A Kingsbury woman whose partner was killed nearly 18 months ago in an automobile crash in Lockhart involving an off-duty San Marcos police officer has filed what her attorneys termed an “official request” to bring the case before a grand jury for a second time.
Jennifer Miller was driving the Honda Accord that was struck in June 2020 by a pickup being driven by Sgt. Ryan Hartman, who police said had crashed after allegedly failing to stop at a stop sign on Maple Street.
Miller died at the crash scene and her partner, Pam Watts, was severely injured.
In a Nov. 2 certified letter sent to the district attorney who handled the case, Watts’ attorneys said they were requesting a new trial because their client had not been given a chance to testify at the November 2020 proceedings, where the Caldwell County Grand Jury ruled not to indict Sgt. Ryan Hartman on a charge of criminal negligent homicide.
Attorneys with the McMinn Law Firm in Austin wrote in their letter to prosecutors they believed key testimony and evidence had not been presented to the grand jury.
“All I’m asking is for them to take it to a new grand jury,” Watts said. “Those people live here in Lockhart and I want them to know the facts of this case. I’m not allowed to ask them what was shared with them before closed doors. But they’ll know what they were told, and I want them to know what they were not told.”
The San Marcos Daily Record in April reported that according to Lockhart police, Hartman was detained after refusing to take a blood alcohol test on scene after officers discovered an open beer can in his truck.
Hours later, after a search warrant was obtained, Hartman’s blood was drawn and no alcohol was detected, according to reports. Hartman maintained he had not consumed any beer from the can prior to the collision.
According to the incident report, his deposition and forensic evidence, Hartman was speeding, talking on the phone, and had failed to stop at two stop signs, the Daily Record reported.
Bastrop County Attorney Bryan Goertz was appointed as a special prosecutor for the case after Caldwell County District Attorney Fred Weber recused himself at the request of Watts, who had learned Weber had previously prosecuted cases out of Hays County in which Hartman had been an arresting officer.
The letter from Watts’ attorneys was sent to Goertz, Weber and 421st District Court Judge Chris Schneider.
A request for comment from Goertz sent at noon Tuesday had not been answered as of press time Tuesday night.
Watts, who is still suffering from long-term injuries, has filed a civil case against Hartman that remains pending. But she said whatever results from that case isn’t the justice she wants.
What she wants is her chance to testify before the grand jury and remains steadfast in her belief that victims should get a chance to speak at proceedings.
Otherwise, she said, district attorneys have too much power.
Watts said she believes Hartman was given special treatment because he was a police officer.
“I’ll forever carry those scars (from my injuries), but most scarring thing is the justice system can completely cover for one of their own,” she said. “The deck is stacked against ordinary citizens out there, and it’s just not right. I can’t live with that, and I don’t think the citizens of Lockhart would want it that way.”