Driver charged in HPD officer's death near I-10
Suspect is believed to have been impaired when car smashed through barricade and hit two directing traffic
driver hits police officers kills one
By MIKE GLENN and JENNIFER LATSON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Veteran Houston police officer Gary Gryder stood in harm's way countless times during his 23-year law enforcement career, including tracking down some of the city's most serious parole violators.
But it was his job directing traffic around Katy Freeway construction that proved fatal, when a car struck him and a fellow officer just before 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
Hung Dasion Troung — a 24-year-old who police say was speeding and possibly intoxicated — was charged with criminally negligent homicide Sunday night in the death of the 47-year-old officer. The charge could be upgraded to intoxication manslaughter, pending the results of blood tests, Houston Police Department spokesman Gabe Ortiz said.
''To lose a great guy like Gary Gryder over something as stupid as an impaired driver, that's the tragedy," said friend Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers Union.
Troung's Toyota sedan crashed through construction barriers as Gryder was preparing to hand traffic duties off to fellow officer Joe Pyland at the Katy Freeway's eastbound feeder road at Texas 6, police said. The two men, along with another officer who jumped out of the way, were standing near a patrol car.
Pyland, 55, fell to the ground, while Gryder was dragged alongside the patrol car and thrown several feet, police said. The force of the impact wrenched the driver's side door of the patrol car forward.
The Toyota never appeared to brake, police said, continuing about 50 feet before slamming into the side of an overpass.
Police at the scene described Troung's behavior as bizarre.
''The driver seemed to be laughing (and) jovial, nonchalant about what happened," HPD spokesman Capt. Bruce Williams said. "That's why we believe there was something more than alcohol in his system."
Pyland suffered multiple leg fractures and was in fair condition at Memorial Hermann-The Texas Medical Center.
Late Sunday morning, hours after getting the call a police officer's family dreads, Gryder's 13-year-old son, Austin, pitched in a baseball tournament for the team his father helped coach.
''He thought he should pitch the game today," said Sgt. Darrell DeFee, Gryder's friend and former partner. "That's what his dad would've wanted."
The family was still in shock from the news, said DeFee, who sat with Gryder's wife, Debbie, a retired HPD officer, in the stands at Baseball USA in northwest Houston.
Gryder, an athlete himself, imparted his love of baseball to his son.
"He was very involved in coaching his son's team," DeFee said. "He was a wonderful all-around guy. He had a heart as big as Texas."
23 years of service
In more than 20 years at the Police Department, Gryder worked a variety of beats. Fifteen years ago, he was one of the lead investigators to crack the case of two teenage girls who were raped, tortured and killed by five young gang members.
In his most recent post, he tracked down parole violators from the department's southeast precinct. Gryder was working HPD-approved overtime when he was killed.
"He told me he had had a couple of close calls before this," DeFee said. "Of course we all have, working traffic jobs. This comes as quite a shock."
Gryder had been injured early in his career, in a wreck during a 1987 car chase.
Gryder never considered switching professions, but he did eye opportunities away from patrol, said his mother, Shirley Gryder.
"I was glad when he was off the street in civilian clothes," she said. "It was the extra job that got him."
In addition to policing and coaching, Gary Gryder was an avid carpenter and woodworker, building furniture in his home wood shop.
"He liked to stay busy," Shirley Gryder said. "He was a workaholic."
He was also a cutup, friends said. Conducting union board meetings sometimes was a challenge because of his sense of humor, Blankinship said.
''He should have been a comedian instead of a police officer," he said.
Pyland expected to recover
Pyland, who joined the HPD in 1980 and also is a union board member, is assigned to the department's neighborhood protection unit. He was in surgery Sunday but was expected to recover from his injuries, Blankinship said.
Houston Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt met with the families of both officers at the hospital Sunday.
''I urge all Houstonians to honor officer Gryder's public service by keeping his family and co-workers in their prayers," White said.