A couple hit head on by a suspected drunk driver in Austin, Texas, said it took 2.5 hours for police to respond to the crash – allowing the driver to sober up and avoid charges.
Lacey Purciful told Fox News Digital the family called 911 five times after the March 18 crash, but the several understaffed police department left them waiting.
Purciful said she was driving with her husband Dustin and two children down Jollyville Road in North Austin at around 4 p.m. after a day at the aquarium when a male driver cut across two lanes of traffic and slammed into them head-on.
“Head on, didn’t hit the brakes, airbags deployed, screaming kids, smoke, adrenaline, we started screaming, and got the kids out of the car,” Purciful told Fox News Digital about the crash.
The military family quickly realized the driver, a male in his 70s, was intoxicated. Purciful says that the “first thing” a bus driver on the scene told her was that the man “smells like alcohol” and was “refusing to get out of the car.”
“He sat in the car for over 30 minutes and then when he got out of the car he fell to the ground and was making weird noises and just acting weird,” Purciful said.
According to the couple, the police officer who responded to the scene after 2.5 hours said that only five officers were working that area, and the suspect was given a sobriety test, passed and was not arrested.
“Everyone could smell alcohol on this man,” Purciful said. “He openly admitted what he was drinking. He told my husband he was drinking High Noons. It isn’t just me making accusations he was just straight-up coming out and telling us and there was no remorse.”
“He never asked if our children were OK. He never apologized. I have a video of him smiling at me as I’m calling him a drunk driver. He’s just standing there smiling at me.”
The couple has retained personal injury attorney Adam Loewy who told Fox News Digital that his understanding is typically around 25 officers would be in the area if it had been fully staffed. The 2.5-hour lag allowed the driver to avoid criminal charges by sobering up, he claimed.
“I’ve heard this again and again where officers are telling me, look, we don’t have enough people working and so when that’s the scenario, these men and women go to different calls and there’s more calls that come in and what happens is you just wait and that’s just how it is,” Loewy said.
Loewy told Fox News Digital there is likely no case against the city due to immunity protections, but there are civil options against the driver’s insurance company and possibly the bar he was served at.
Austin’s city council slashed the police budget in 2020 amid the George Floyd riots across the country and has been mired in a situation where police staffing has plummeted and not recovered even though funding was restored after the state stepped in.
Additionally, the low morale and a recent move by the city council to abandon a previously agreed upon police contract with the city has sparked a wave of police retirements.
Despite the staffing crisis, Austin’s newly elected Democratic Mayor Kirk Watson recently assured the public that the department would be “fully staffed” during the annual SXSW festival, which was taking place on March 18 when the Purcifuls were struck by the suspected drunk driver.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.
Lacey Purciful posted several videos on her TikTok account, one of which received more than 1.8 million views as of Wednesday, showing the aftermath of the crash and her smashed-up car and wondering aloud why the police had not arrived for over two hours.
The Austin Police Department confirmed to Fox News Digital that they received the 911 call at 4:18 p.m. and the first police unit was not assigned until 6:11 p.m. because “that sector and surrounding sectors were busy assisting with other emergency calls.” The first officer arrived at the scene at approximately 6:35 p.m., the department said.
“Even at fully-staffed capacities, due to the incidents and calls that our officers attend, we may not always have enough officers to be at every call once they came in,” the statement said.
“Our officers work hard every day to handle the high volume of calls that we may receive and answer them accordingly with the resources we have on hand,” the statement added. “Unfortunately, this service level differs from the level we hope to provide our community. Still, we consistently review our processes and assess how we can improve in serving the city of Austin and those who choose to visit.”
Purciful shared images with Fox News Digital showing the injuries sustained by members of the whole family including heavy bruising and burn marks. Purciful said she suffered a fractured wrist, and the impact also “collapsed a cyst” on her ovary that resulted in “excruciating stomach pain.”
Additionally, she said her daughter woke up screaming in the middle of the night due to pain from a groin injury as a result of the four-point harness she was wearing.
Purciful said she felt like she was in the “Twilight Zone,” and she hoped to do everything she could to get the word out about her situation and try to bring the driver to justice.
“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Purciful said. “I was like am I being punked? Is this a joke? Is this really my life right now? This is not OK.”