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Waiting for DWI suspect to re-offend proves costly

Police armed with a warrant were hoping to find Anthony Watson a year ago after he was accused of felony DWI and driving 94 mph on the Kensington Expressway on New Year’s Day 2013.

At the time, his driver’s license already had 24 active suspensions.

Police finally found him early on the morning of April 12, when his pickup truck crashed into an East Side house after he sped off when officers pulled him over on Genesee Street for driving erratically.

The crash critically injured Watson and his passenger, who suffered massive head injuries and bleeding on the brain, according to family.

Authorities hope to arraign Watson soon on the 2013 indictment in the jail ward at Erie County Medical Center, depending on when his doctors say he is medically able.

Buffalo community activist Darnell Jackson Sr., whose 45-year-old nephew Walter “Billy” Jackson was the passenger in last weekend’s crash, is wondering why it took so long to locate the 35-year-old Watson after he was indicted last May.

“If police were on the job, they would have caught him,” Jackson said. “He hasn’t moved. Sometimes people fall through the cracks.”

The story starts Jan. 1, 2013, when a state trooper stopped Watson at 11 a.m. for speeding on the Kensington.

City Court records show that he was released on $3,500 bail the day after his arrest and that a felony hearing was set for Jan. 8 but was adjourned to Feb. 7, then March 7. The hearing was never held, and the case was presented to a grand jury.

The grand jury indicted Watson on May 7 on felony charges of driving while intoxicated and first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle as well as a speeding charge.

An indictment warrant was issued May 15 after Watson failed to show up for arraignment before Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka, but he wasn’t located until last weekend’s crash.

Police say they lack the manpower to actively pursue the subject of every warrant, especially in cases like this.

“You hope you catch them somewhere along the line, with another violation,” said Investigator Martin Forero of the Buffalo Police Department’s Accident Investigation Unit. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s how it happens. They’re driving around, commit another violation and get caught.”

In the April 12 crash, police said they pulled over Watson’s truck on Genesee and Newburgh Avenue when they noticed he was driving erratically. When the officers got out of their patrol car, Watson drove off at a high rate of speed.

A short time later the truck struck the house at Newburgh and East Delavan Avenue.

Police are awaiting the results of Watson’s blood alcohol test before filing any charges in the chase and crash.

Darnell Jackson said Watson and Walter Jackson are brothers-in-law and were returning to Buffalo from the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls at the time of the crash. He said he believes they had been drinking at the casino.

He faulted both Watson and his nephew for the crash.

“Anthony was a major contributor to what happened Saturday,” he said, noting his 2007 conviction for driving while intoxicated and his arrest last year on the Kensington. “But when you don’t get help, you do it again. They need to give him treatment, not just send him to jail.”

“Jail is not equipped to handle these people,” he added. “They punish you but don’t rehab you.”

Jackson also said his nephew should not have let his brother-in-law drive if he was drunk.

“When somebody is hurt bad in a crash, some look to blame others,” he said. “But you should look in the mirror. A 45-year-old man should take responsibility and not let his friend drive.”

He also faulted the City Court judge who released Watson on $3,500 bail after his arrest on the Kensington, despite his earlier DWI conviction and the 24 suspensions on his license for multiple “scoffs” or violations.

In addition, at the time of his Kensington arrest, Watson was wanted on two bench warrants for vehicle and traffic charges and a stolen property charge.

Gladys Jackson said her son suffered serious head injuries and brain bleeding and underwent emergency surgery to reconstruct his jaw, which was broken in several places.

She said he is improving, although he is still in critical condition in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit.

She said neither her son nor Watson has any recollection of the crash.

Eight members of Billy Jackson’s family held a prayer circle Sunday outside ECMC to pray for the recovery of both men.

Holding hands in the shadow of the hospital’s main tower, Darnell Jackson said Watson is now part of the Jackson family.

“It ain’t time to point fingers,” Jackson said during the prayer. “It’s time to come together with peace and love and unity in our family.”

News Niagara Reporter Aaron Besecker contributed to this report. email: