Following a two-month investigation, Houston police have arrested a 35-year-old Houston driver believed to be behind the hit-and-run death of cyclist Chelsea Norman on Waugh Drive in early December.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office has filed felony charges against Margaret Renee Mayer for crashing into the 24-year-old Montrose Whole Foods worker and not rendering aid — an incident that sparked a new wave of cycling activism across the city. Mayer, who was convicted for driving under the influence in 2002, now faces up to 20 years in prison.
According to court documents, a co-worker of Mayer's contacted Crime Stoppers with information in the days after Norman's death on Dec. 4.
Mayer said she got lost "somewhere on Waugh" and sus pected that she hit someone.
The tipster said she was with the suspect at a bar in the hours leading up to the accident. Mayer contacted her the following day, describing how she was intoxicated after the bar meet-up and got lost "somewhere on Waugh." Judging from her car's shattered windshield, Mayer thought she hit someone but couldn't recall what had happened.
Investigators visited Mayer at work to inspect her vehicle — which showed most, but not all, of the damage described by the tipster. The suspect initially denied having done repair work to her car and again claimed that she was too intoxicated the night of the incident to remember any specific details. Authorities later secured surveillance footage showing Mayer's damaged car at a repair shop the day after the hit-and-run.
County investigators also spoke with Mayer's neighbor, who helped the allegedly intoxicated suspect call her mother "to notify her about the incident." The neighbor told authorities she "observed a 'gooey' yellow substance on the hood of the defendant's car" and also noticed "a piece of blue denim" attached to the vehicle. DNA evidence was taken from the car.
Further evidence against Mayer came from her brother, who happened to be in jail during the investigation. In a recorded jailhouse phone call to his mother on Dec. 4, he discusses the accident. The two refer to the defendant as "Auntie M" and describe how she hit a cyclist while driving under the influence, according to the police.
A Community Uprising
The fatal December accident served as a rallying point for the Houston cycling community, which hosted several events honoring Norman and raising awareness of how vehicles and bikes can share the road.
"This is complex and tragic story for everyone involved."
"This is a complex and tragic story for everyone involved," cycling activist Fab Ordonez tells CultureMap. While Ordonez says he hates to see someone face 20 years in prison, he feels the arrest is a step in the right direction for a city slow to prosecute motorists involved in cycling deaths.
Ordonez says that most American cities, Houston included, still treat cyclists as people choosing to engage in a risky and dangerous endeavor. He points to the Chronicle's recent review of fatal bike-car collisions, which showed that, since 2009, only four drivers have been charged in a total of 23 incidents
"As horrible as Chelsea's death has been for cyclists, it's helped to bring together a silent community," Ordonez says. "Let's hope this arrest will highlight how rarely hit-and-run drivers are punished . . . Let's hope it will push the authorities and the city."