WaPo fact check: You bet Beto tried to flee the scene in DWI

Did Beto O’Rourke try to flee the scene of his accident in 1998 to avoid being arrested for a DWI? In his debate last week, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz admitted to his “terrible mistake” of drunk driving, “for which there is no excuse or justification or defense,” but insisted that he never tried to flee the scene as the Houston Chronicle reported. O’Rourke turned the debate question away from his own guilt and into an improbable lecture on white privilege, a rather clever political move.

But did O’Rourke get away with a lie?

Karen Townsend noted the next day that O’Rourke’s answer contradicted eyewitness testimony given to the police. Today, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler throws four Pinocchios at O’Rourke for this answer, pointing out that two different police documents show that O’Rourke tried to flee:

The accident had been observed by a witness. He told Carrera that O’Rourke, driving a Volvo, had passed him a high rate of speed through a 75 mph zone and then lost control and “struck a truck traveling the same direction.” O’Rourke’s car then crossed the large grassy center median and came to a stop. (This video depicts I-10 near the location of the crash.)

“The defendant/driver then attempted to leave the scene,” Carrera reported. “The reporter then turned on his overhead lights to warn oncoming traffic and try to get the defendant to stop.”

Similar information appears in another document, the incident and crime report: “The driver attempted to leave the accident but was stopped by the reporter.”

Not only did O’Rourke try to flee, but it took a bystander to keep him at the scene. As to the “white privilege” argument that O’Rourke got a pass because of his skin color, Kessler notes that the privilege might be a little more personal. The Houston Chronicle pointed out in the report that prompted the question that O’Rourke was “the son of an El Paso County judge,” which might account for the lenient treatment option he got, which removed the conviction from his record.

Maybe O’Rourke was too drunk to recall his effort to flee the scene, Kessler concludes. After twenty years, though, Beto should be more familiar with the factual record of the arrest he managed to eventually beat, a point Kessler references in his snarky finale:

O’Rourke could have dodged the question during the debate or he could have said his memory is not clear from that night. Instead, he chose to dispute the factual record. We also believe in second chances and O’Rourke should revise his answer if given another opportunity. In the meantime, he earns Four Pinocchios.

Why lie about it, when the record is so clear? O’Rourke had been trying to pass off his DWI as a lesser event, a simple case of mistaken judgment with no serious consequences. The police record shows that it was both much more serious of an accident and more seriously revealing of character than O’Rourke let on. Perhaps he’s grown up a lot since then — that certainly does appear to be the case, to be fair — but if so, why not just say so? Lying about such a well-documented event is an easily avoided wounding of credibility. And it makes for a rather easy fact-check, as Kessler will no doubt agree.

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David Strom 2:31 PM on October 04, 2022
David Strom 1:31 PM on October 04, 2022