Police were searching Wednesday for more than a dozen people who may have been involved in the beating death of a man who was a passenger in a car that struck and injured a child not far from a Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas.
David Rivas Morales died Tuesday from injuries sustained in an assault by an unknown number of black men following the car accident, which occurred in the parking lot of an East Austin apartment complex, police said.
"It doesn't seem to be a hate crime, it really seems to be a spontaneous act resulting from that collision with that child," Harold Piatt, the commander of the Austin Police Department's Robbery Homicide Unit. "We don't know if there were any words exchanged between the driver and the men to start with that escalated this to the assault."
The incident occurred at around 9:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Booker T. Washington apartments, near Rosewood Park, where the city's Juneteenth celebrations were wrapping up, Piatt said.
The driver of the car carrying Morales struck a 3- or 4-year-old girl, apparently prompting the attack.
"The driver, for whatever reason, whether he realized he was involved in the collision or his vehicle forced a stop, got out of the car, got into a confrontation with several men and was assaulted," Piatt said.
Morales came to his aid and was fatally attacked in what police are calling a "spontaneous homicide." He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The driver was able to get back into his car and drive away. Both he and his vehicle have been located, Piatt said, but he declined to release the driver's identity because the man is a witness in an ongoing investigation.
"We could have had anywhere from two to 15 and 20 [people] who are actually involved in the assault," Piatt said. Some 2,000 to 3,000 people were gathered in the parking lot at the time.
The child was treated for non-life-threatening injuries at Brackenridge Hospital.
Piatt said there is no reason to link the assault with the Juneteenth celebrations.
"There were no city-sponsored events occurring on the parking lot of Booker T. Washington, although there were some events in the immediate area — Rosewood Park," he said. "Some of the crowd may have gone onto Booker T. or people just out in their apartments — celebrating, having a good time, whatever — but there's nothing to tie one to the other and nothing to indicate that this was a hate crime."
The Austin Police Department is asking those with information to call its homicide tip line at 512-477-3588.
Juneteenth celebrates the day Gen. Gordon Granger shared the news of the Emancipation Proclamation with the slaves of Galveston, Texas, two years after Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States.