Local man charged with aggravated assault; victim remains in hospital
By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor
Judson Talbert Weaver turned himself in at the sheriff's office Wednesday evening and was arrested on a felony warrant for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of 26-year-old Chris Wright in front of Days Inn early that morning.
Weaver was later arraigned by Justice of the Peace Ronny Glossup and released after posting $50,000 bond. Weaver was also ordered to be regularly drug and alcohol tested, as authorities say evidence indicates alcohol may have been involved.
Meanwhile, Wright remained in a Tyler hospital today after undergoing surgery for massive facial lacerations Wednesday. He is reported to be in stable condition.
Weaver, 24, of Sulphur Springs and attorney Frank Long were slated to meet with authorities at 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the incident, but later, acting under Long's advice, opted not to.
The felony arrest warrant was issued later in the afternoon based on the information authorities had obtained, District Attorney Martin Braddy said Thursday morning.
"We felt it was the appropriate decision to move forward with the information we had," Braddy said. "Hopefully, Mr. Weaver will talk to us and answer our questions as to the motivating factors and what took place in his car. If he has a reason justifying his actions, we'd like to know and will act accordingly if he presents them."
Allegations that Wright's injuries were racially motivated were levied by the president of the Hopkins County chapter of the NAACP Wednesday.
Braddy said the facts thus far indicate Weaver, who is Caucasian, and Wright, an African American, engaged in a verbal altercation in the Days Inn bar, where Wright's girlfriend is employed. Wright and his girlfriend, who is Caucasian, were in the parking lot after the bar closed. Weaver was also in the parking lot in a GMC Yukon. Braddy said another verbal altercation ensued, and something occurred which resulted in Wright leaning into Weaver's car. Weaver accelerated the vehicle while Wright was still leaning partially in the window of the vehicle. Wright's face was injured when he fell to the ground.
The Associated Press reported Christopher Wright, 26, of Sulphur Springs, was being treated at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler for facial injuries, bruised lungs and a fractured spine.
��We have done an initial surgery and we will just have to wait and see how he progresses before we know what if any other surgeries are needed,�� trauma surgeon Dr. John Berne told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
Family members described Wright's face as being "mangled."
"They told me it looks as though someone took a 12-gauge shotgun and shot him in the face," said Dr. LaVelle Hendricks, president of the Hopkins County Chapter of the NAACP.
The district attorney said he would not characterize the manner in which Wright was injured "dragging."
"There was no type of dragging. The victim was partially in and partially out of the window. Weaver left and accelerated. The victim fell from the window, causing the injuries from falling from a moving vehicle," the district attorney said Thursday.
Frank Long, Weaver's attorney, did not return calls from the News-Telegram regarding his client and Weaver's account of what happened in front of the club early Wednesday morning.
Attention drawn to the case led to an afternoon press conference Wednesday outside the Hopkins County Courthouse.
"We want to get to the facts. I don't want to do or think anything until we have the facts behind the case," LaVelle Hendricks said at the press conference.
Hendricks described the Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County community as a "unique place" and the incident as "isolated." But he did charge that race was a motivating factor in the case.
"In the 16 years I've lived in this community this is the first major racial incident. The community is working together to solve this case," he said. "I'm going to ask the DA to consider race. Race was definitely the case last night."
The NAACP chapter president then encouraged community members to pray for the victim and his family.
Police were initially contacted by Hopkins County Memorial Hospital staff after Wright was brought to the medical center. An officer went to the hospital to interview the victim, while another was sent to the motel to try to find the suspect.
According to Sulphur Springs Police Chief Jim Bayuk, the incident occurred at 12:30 a.m., a time when most businesses are closed and people are asleep; thus, the suspect was not located. A detective was then called in, Bayuk said at the press conference.
Texas Ranger Phillip Kemp was also called in. He and local authorities continue to work on the case.
Braddy said authorities are still trying to determine what motivated the altercation. They will consider whether race was a motivating factor, as well as other factors which they have received indicating "a previous non-racial" incident may have played a part in the incident.
"We're trying to determine what, if any, connection there was between Weaver and the victim and his girlfriend, if there was something in the past which might have caused friction," the district attorney said.
Braddy said no determinations will be made until the investigation is concluded.
Investigators are still planning to interview Wright, his girlfriend and immediate family, who have been at ETMC with victim. Authorities also plan to track down others who were at the club during the altercation, and hotel staff, for further interviews.
�Morning Chapel Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Harold B. Nash, speaking at the press conference, urged the African American community to let justice take its course. He also asked that individuals not let the case or things they hear get them "stirred up," as such actions can cause problems.
When asked if he thought the altercation at the club Wednesday night was spurred by jealousy or was racial in nature, Nash replied, "I don't have the facts. I don't know."
He described the victim as being from "an excellent family."
"One problem is it may stir up some people over what the district attorney said. They didn't pick him [Weaver] up. We're trying to keep the racial tones in the community down," the pastor said.
Sebastian Adams, who said he is a cousin of the victim, said he couldn't believe it when he heard Wednesday morning Wright had been injured.
"II don't understand how it can happen," adding that his prayers go out to the victim, his parents, brother and family, and that the outcome was being left in the hands of the chief of police and the district attorney.
"I hope they get to the bottom of it ASAP, why it happened and what manner," Adams said. "He left the bar — that's premeditated to me."
Another man who said he was a cousin of Wright's questioned why police were not able to find the suspect after the incident was reported.
"I know if I did something like that, I'd be in [jail]] already," he said. "If that had been any black, Asian, Hispanic person, he'd be picked up already," he said.
One young African American man said it was "not surprising" the manner in which the issue was being handled, nor that the incident could have been racial in nature.
Another noted that there is "little stuff that goes on all the time" in this community.