SAN ANTONIO – In the south parking lot of Traders Village earlier this month, a quiet morning was interrupted by the sounds of screeching tires and the occasional emergency vehicle siren.
The massive lot is used by the Bexar County Sheriff's Office for its week-long emergency vehicle operations course.
Before BCSO deputies can move to the agency's patrol division, they must become proficient in lessons that include shuffle steering and simulated pursuits.
"They have to demonstrate that they can make the turns, set the vehicle, get through without tearing up the cones," said Deputy Joseph Rodriguez, a BCSO driving instructor.
Rodriguez said deputies repeatedly practice the techniques until they become muscle memory and translate to their work in real-life emergency situations.
"We all carry a weapon and we qualify with them every year. These vehicles, we need to be constant on the training," said Rodriguez, referring to BCSO-issued Chevrolet Tahoes.
Less than two days after we interviewed Rodriguez, some of his fellow deputies were involved in a brief pursuit near Marbach Road and Loop 1604.
Investigators said 17-year-old Andrew Plata was involved in a road-rage incident Dec. 3 around 5:40 a.m., during which time he wrecked several vehicles.
When tracked down by a deputies, Plata turned around his vehicle and drove at them, striking a deputy and a BCSO unit he was standing near, according to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.
The deputy suffered minor injuries.
Plata then hit another vehicle, but continued to flee before eventually crashing.
Plata was eventually shot several times, but survived and now faces multiple felony charges.
According to the BCSO pursuit policy, the most recent version of which into effect last month, any deputy engaged in or supporting a pursuit can end it at any time.
BCSO deputies are allowed to engage in pursuits if they view a hazardous moving violation, if a felony has been committed and probable cause has been established, if the suspect is fleeing from an act of family violence or if a deputy believes the suspect -- if allowed to flee -- presents a serious threat to the public.
Deputies cannot engage in pursuits involving equipment or non-moving violations, misdemeanor traffic warrants, misdemeanor criminal warrants or when the violator is known and can be arrested at a later time, unless he or she presents a serious threat to the public.