Arrest made after nearly 100 rock-throwing incidents on Austin interstate

CREDIT: Austin Police via KXAN.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin man who bills himself as a “towing compliance expert” is currently in the Travis County Jail accused of being responsible for the “lion’s share” of rock throwing cases along Interstate 35.

Patrick Eugene Johnson, 59, was booked into the jail around 4 a.m. Thursday and charged with attempted aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His bond is set at $250,000.

Patrick Eugene Johnson (Austin Police Department)
Patrick Eugene Johnson (Austin Police Department)

In a news conference announcing the major break in the case, Austin Chief of PoliceArt Acevedo made it a point that he believes Johnson is the main culprit. “We’ve had about 94 cases involving this series of events [since June 2014], and by the time we’re done putting together our case, we believe he’s responsible for the lion’s share of the cases.”

After a new spree of rock throwing cases surfaced in May, the Austin Police Department moved all the rock cases over to the Organized Crime Division, with an effort to get new eyes on the investigation.

While most of the victims only received vehicle damage, three people were severely injured. One of the very first victims, Kenneth Johnson [no relation] suffered severe head trauma when a rock blasted through his windshield and hit him. Acevedo says he is confident they will charge Johnson with attempted murder in Kenneth’s case.

Police say they have also arrested two other individuals accused of throwing rocks over the bridges, but he believes they are only responsible for a few, not the bulk of the cases. Acevedo says he has a message for future copycats: “If you want to be a cell mate, block mate, go ahead and continue with your copycat. The technology and methods we are deploying, we will catch you and I am confident we will be making an additional arrest of at least one copycat here in the near future.”

Needle in a Haystack

Acevedo says once the Organized Crime Division was focused on the case, the detectives pored over all the data and 911 calls and realized there was a pattern: Johnson. Police say he called 911 numerous times to report cases as well as being in the vicinity where attacks were reported.

“After committing his crimes, his cowardly crimes, he came back to the scene acting as a Good Samaritan, acting as a witness,” says Acevedo of Johnson’s modus operandi.

Even though Johnson’s name was in the mix of possible suspects, police say a dash camera video from a University of Texas at Austin patrol car helped the process along.

According to an arrest affidavit, a UTPD police officer was driving northbound on I-35 approaching E. 51st Street around 2:34 a.m. on May 14, 2016 when he saw an “object projected from the southbound traffic lanes.” The officer said while the object didn’t hit his patrol car, he did run over it. The officer did activate his dash camera and was able to capture video of a suspect vehicle traveling “by itself and was the only candidate source for the rock.”

While the incident happened on May 14, the UTPD officer didn’t immediately report it to his supervisor because the patrol car didn’t sustain any damage. Once the chief at UTPD sent out an email to his staff on June 10, 2016 about the rock throwing cases, the officer then brought the video to his attention.

After reviewing the video, police say they were able to link the suspect vehicle to Johnson’s vehicle. The court records go on to say Johnson called 911 to report something in the roadway approximately 16 minutes after the UTPD rock throwing case.

On Wednesday, June 15, detectives interviewed Johnson and his roommate was brought in for questioning. According to the affidavit, Johnson admitted to throwing rocks from his vehicle on I-35. When pressed for locations, Johnson only mentioned two cases. Johnson’s roommate admitted to police he was in the vehicle at the time of the May 14 case and “witnessed on at least two separate incidents Johnson throw a rock out of his vehicle towards vehicles” on I-35.

KXAN.com has more on the story.

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