SPECIAL REPORT: Catching the rock throwers

It's happening at night...most of the time anyway.  In 2014 when people started reporting being hit by huge rocks while driving on I-35, police thought someone was standing on the upper deck and throwing them down into the traffic below.  As horrific as that sounds, the Austin Police Department's new theory is much scarier and much deadlier.

Now, police believe the rocks are being thrown from other cars in oncoming traffic.  And with the number of reported incidents climbing toward 60, they're not just happening in one spot anymore -- but many spots along 35 in the Austin area.

"Somebody out there knows something. and I urge you to step forward, not just for the $10,000 but I urge you to step forward and say something before someone is killed," said Chief Art Acevedo in January.

Acevedo ensured the public they're doing everything they can to catch whoever is doing this - including offering that hefty reward.

Acevedo said in that press conference that after telling the Austin media cameras were being put up in the area where the attacks were happening.  That's when the attackers started throwing rocks in other places.

"We are not going to talk about these attacks anymore after today during this investigation.  We are not going to talk about our methods," Acevedo said.

Ed Scruggs is a member of the Public Safety Commission - a group made up of citizens appointed by council members.  Rock-throwing came up at one of their meetings and as a result, representatives from APD met with TXDOT at City Hall about the possibility of temporary and long-term solutions concerning the infrastructure of 35.

"It was just never envisioned that anything like this can happen, we've got a very low median in the middle.  We of course have all of the bridges and overpasses and so forth and it lends itself to this type of activity, no one would have ever known that," Scruggs said.

The results of APD's meeting with TXDOT are still not known.

One of the ideas that's been mentioned is a temporary barrier along I-35.

Scruggs says aside from a temporary solution, a long-term fix is something we definitely need to be thinking about as we plan our future roadways.

"We can take these incidents as a lesson that we can learn from and hopefully not spend hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades and not take this into account," Scruggs said.

So if the rocks really are being thrown from on-coming traffic, what is the science behind that?

UT Physics professor Dr. Peter Onyisi who helped discover the Higgs Bosson in 2012 says rocks being thrown from cars already in motion is considerably more dangerous than just being thrown from an overpass.  

"If someone is driving at you and throws a rock, their speed gets added on to it as well and then you drive into it so you'd be going into it at 140 miles per hour instead of just 60," Onyisi said.

Before June 14th 2014, Austin musician Kenneth Johnson played bass in a band called Barry Whitesnake.

A rock through his windshield changed everything.

"He has a prosthetic all the way through his head.  And he had a stroke after he had the brain surgery.  He had an aneurysm and they had to go in and it burst," Johnson's mother Barbara Goodwin said.

Now, Johnson has moved in with Goodwin in Houston.  Goodwin says his medicaid was cut off so they're relying on a GoFundMe page to get by.

She says the original prognosis was grim but he's made tremendous progress.

"Kenneth is a miracle, he defied all odds.  He is walking, he is learning to talk, he can make his own breakfast, he can do his own laundry," she said

Goodwin is hoping to raise enough money for further treatment.  She's optimistic he'll be able to get back to Austin someday and live independently again.

"We're just waiting for one person to do what you need to do for Kenny and everyone else that's been hurt in this," Goodwin said.
 

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