The Fort Bend County district attorney's office officials hope the purchase of two electric bicycles will help further the county’s mission to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety.

At the Jan. 9 Commissioners Court meeting, Fort Bend County commissioners approved the DA office’s request to purchase the e-bikes using funding from its asset forfeiture fund, which comes from property seizures made in criminal investigations, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Although other law enforcement agencies have begun implementing two-wheeled fleets, it's a new opportunity for the DA's office, said Wesley Wittig, second assistant district attorney for Fort Bend County.

“It's a novel approach for us," he said. "We hear those things might happen in other places or especially in a high-urban area. ... But this is a first impression out here and in the way we're doing it for us.”

The details

While the DA’s office wasn’t able to provide the cost for the two e-bikes, a quick internet search shows electric bikes can range from $700-$1,600. The e-bike purchase will be used in two ways:
  • The bikes will be another resource used by DA’s office investigators to help monitor crosswalks around schools and other high-risk areas. Wittig said this will allow investigators to maneuver around campuses and enforce pedestrian safety laws better.
  • They will support law enforcement by raising awareness for cyclists who are being endangered by irresponsible motorists, Wittig said. The DA’s office has received waves of calls from cyclists who have been harassed and threatened by drivers, he said.
The DA’s office already increases its presence at local schools at the start of the school year and when students return from winter break due to the high volume of complaints, Wittig said.

“We’ve had complaints from citizens saying, ‘My child was almost hit,’” he said. “We went out there and talked to parents, and the crossing guards are like, ‘Yeah, it's dangerous. I almost quit being a crossing guard because I've almost been hit so many times.’ It's just crazy; it's out of control.”

The background

The program furthers the county’s mission to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, spurred by the 2017 death of Missouri City resident Lisa Torry Smith, who died after being hit in a crosswalk while taking her son to school, Community Impact reported. The driver who hit Torry Smith and injured her son was fined $50, but they did not face criminal charges.

Torry Smith’s death inspired the Lisa Torry Smith Act—also known as Senate Bill 1055—that passed in the Texas Legislature in 2021. The law made it so inattentive drivers could be criminally charged for injuring or killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk, Community Impact reported.

Despite this law, Wittig said there’s still more work to be done to prevent unnecessary pedestrian deaths, pointing to two other local residents who were struck and killed by motorists in September:
  • 14-year-old Logan Dark was killed by a motorist while riding his bike in the crosswalk on his way to Cinco Ranch High School, ABC 13 reported.
  • 60-year-old Don Yeager was killed by a motorist while walking his dog in a crosswalk in the New Territory subdivision of Sugar Land, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The prosecution of the Sugar Land motorist will be the county’s first application of using the Lisa Torry Smith Act, Wittig said.

Next steps

Meanwhile, the DA’s office applied in January for a Texas Department of Transportation grant to pay for a pedestrian safety public awareness campaign.

If approved, the almost $107,000 grant—20% of which will come from Fort Bend County—would also help fund overtime pay for law enforcement officers countywide to increase visibility of law enforcement in high-risk areas, Wittig said.

The DA’s office most likely won’t learn whether it received the grant until September, he said.