Lee Lemons still doesn't know the name of the tow truck driver who killed his son, Lance. If he did, he'd want to ask the driver why he used deadly force over something that may have been a misunderstanding. "Why was your initial impression shoot first?" Lee Lemons said in a recent interview at his DeSoto home. "[Why] not show the gun and say, 'Hey, get out of my truck?"
Lance, 27, was shot to death by a United Tows driver while sitting in the cab of the driver's truck on February 5, a little after 3:30 in the morning. Police have not arrested or named the shooter. They say the shooter left his truck idling and then briefly walked away to look for parking violations at the Flats at Five Mile Creek apartment complex in Oak Cliff. It was then that Lemons got inside and took the car in reverse, police say. The shooter wasn't arrested because he have may have been trying to protect his property, police say, a defense commonly referred to as the Castle Doctrine, as we reported this week.
Lee Lemons resents the portrayal of his son as a suspected thief. He was studying for a degree in criminology, and next month would have been the one year anniversary of his employment with the Dallas County probation department. "I know that he wasn't out there trying to take anybody's tow truck," he says. "All he was trying to do was move it out of the way." Friends and family have said the tow truck was blocking Lance's car, which was legally parked.
Lee Lemons was still mourning the death of his son when he got a surprise call from another parent who was in a different sort of battle with United Tows. Sherry Hutchins told Lemons that her son was wrongly accused of shooting at two tow truck drivers at that same apartment complex four months prior. The police arrested him on the drivers' word, but physical evidence showed he was wrongly accused. Both parents are hunting for answers and coming up empty.
Records show that on September 30, 2014, at 3:35 in the morning, two tow truck drivers called the police from 423 East Ledbetter Drive, the address of the Flats at Five Mile Creek complex. The tow truck drivers told police that Darrol Alexander, Hutchins' son, had fired a handgun at them as they were trying to tow cars away. "Neither victim was struck and both declined medical treat," reads the police narrative. Police arrested Alexander, and he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Alexander lived at a nearby motel at the time without a car, his mother says. He had walked to the apartment property to borrow boots from a friend who lived there, she says, and was leaving to catch the bus when he heard the gunshots and saw a tow truck speeding out of the apartment gate. A second tow truck followed it. "I'm going to get you, motherfucker," she says the driver told her son as the truck passed him. Police arrested him as he was walking to his bus stop to get to work, she says. He was unarmed.
A sympathetic bondsman at Ace Bailbonds gave Hutchins a discount after hearing the story. "I really go by my gut to be honest with you, and I just believed her," Denna Rogers, the manager at Ace Bailbonds, says of the mother.
A gun powder test released in November suppoeted Hutchins' insistence that her son was not guilty. The test found no gun powder on his hands. "The results were negative for gunshot residue. Charges will not be filed on the suspect in this offense for that reason," reads the gunpowder report, produced by Dallas police. "However, bullet holes were found on the complainant's vehicle so an offense was committed but it is very doubtful that the suspect committed this offense."
The police and tow truck drivers "just picked a black guy," says Rev. Ronald Wright of Justice Seekers, the advocacy group that has been trying to help Alexander get his record expunged.
The tow truck drivers named in the police report are Alan Candelario and Mario Mercado, the latter of whom has a terrible driving record for a professional driver. Records show that Mercado has been charged with speeding four times since 2010 and was busted for an illegal lane change in 2013. In 2009, an officer caught him driving the wrong way on East Grand Avenue; he was charged with DWI and convicted. By then he was already working for United Tows, court records show. He received 18 months probation for the DWI conviction. He was also convicted of theft and vehicle burglary in 1999, though the case file was cleared from his record after he completed probation. (Mercado has not yet returned messages left to a phone number he provided in court documents).
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In an interview, United Tows attorney Robert Jenkins suggested Alexander washed his hands before taking the gun powder test, though Jenkins said he didn't have the case documents in front of him and needed to review them. He also said he would review Mercado's driving record.
Alexander's case was never presented to the District Attorney, officials say. But he still has an arrest record that shows two violent felony charges, despite the DPD's gun powder report.
"He can't get work," Hutchins says. "No one will hire him because when they do the background, they see that."
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.