SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Tuesday announced the formation of an investigative unit that will look into about 15 deaths during the winter storm last week to determine if the frigid weather or a power outage contributed to the fatalities.
Salazar said the unit will be made up of a homicide cold-case detective, a sergeant from the agency’s CSI Unit, a BCSO Public Integrity investigator and a retired FBI agent who works for the agency.
The sheriff said the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office received about 150 calls for welfare checks and for sick and/or injured people during the winter storm that the unit will follow up on.
Salazar said one of the deaths involved the discovery of a 69-year-old man at a home on Green Lake Drive. The home was 35 degrees inside when deputies arrived. He said it’s a death like this that warrants a probe.
“A heart attack that may have led to somebody’s death two weeks ago or next week, it’s a heart attack. But when it happens during an event like this, we owe it to those folks to give it an extra look,” he said.
Salazar said that he plans to serve some grand jury subpoenas to CPS Energy to determine if power outages were a factor in at least two deaths.
Although he said it’s too early to determine if negligence was a contributing factor in the deaths, he did not rule out the possibility that criminal charges could be filed against a utility company if the investigation finds negligence was a contributing factor. He cited a state law that allows charges to be filed against companies for such reasons.
“It is possible for an organization to face charges for the deeds or misdeeds of as it were, a board of directors, or of managers in association or boards of officers having to do with that organization. So, yeah, it’s entirely possible that a person or persons could face criminal charges as a result of this,” Salazar said.
“It’s way too early to say if anyone is going to face criminal charges. We may find out after all this that all these were natural deaths, that they could not have been prevented. The electricity or lack thereof didn’t contribute, the temperature didn’t contribute, and then we’ll go on with our daily lives. However, with that being said, we owe it to those who survived these folks to give them the complete answers,” he said.
Salazar said he plans to reach out to law enforcement agencies in Abilene and Houston, where weather-related deaths were reported to see if there are similarities between the cases there and in Bexar County.
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office issued the following statement Wednesday evening:
“The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office supports all reviews into what contributed to the power and water crisis that impacted so many Texans last week. All Texans should have a clear understanding of what went wrong so that those mistakes are remedied and not repeated. As the BCSO conducts its investigation into whether criminal wrongdoing may have contributed to deaths related to last week’s winter weather, Sheriff Salazar has assured us he will ask our office if grand jury subpoenas are needed.”