U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke doubled down Saturday that he did not leave the scene of a 1998 drinking and driving arrest near El Paso, Texas, and added that a passenger inside his vehicle that night backs his story.
“I did not flee,” O’Rourke told Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith during the 2018 Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “The police report on this is wrong.”
O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in November, rejected September 1998 police reports that quoted an unnamed motorist as saying he stopped O’Rourke from fleeing the scene of a DUI crash on Interstate 10.
Appearing as the festival’s closing keynote speaker, O’Rourke said he recently contacted the female passenger to get her recollection of that evening.
“I reached out to the passenger who was in the car that I was driving — who also does not appear in the police report, among other factual errors — somebody that I’ve not spoken to in more than 15 years, and asked her recollection of that evening,” O’Rourke said. “She said, ‘No, we were in the median of the road. We did not try to flee. I don’t know that there was anywhere we could have gone.’”
“I reached out to the passenger who was in the car that I was driving … She said, ‘No, we were in the median of the road. We did not try to flee. I don’t know that there was anywhere we could have gone.’”
O’Rourke, celebrating his 26th birthday, crashed into a truck traveling in the same direction at a high rate of speed before careening across the median into the oncoming traffic lanes and coming to a stop, a witness told police.
His blood alcohol level content was 0.136, well above the state legal limit 0.10 at the time.
“The defendant/driver then attempted to leave the scene,” police Officer Richard Carrera said in a report. The witness “then turned on his overhead lights to warn oncoming traffic and try to get the defendant to stop.”
O’Rourke also disputed the account during a debate Friday against Cruz.
“I did not try to leave the scene of the accident, though driving drunk — which I did — is a terrible mistake, for which there is no excuse of justification or defense,” O’Rourke at the debate.
A Washington Post fact-checker gave O’Rourke “four Pinocchios” regarding his claim.
“Given his blood alcohol content at the time of the crash, O’Rourke’s memory 20 years after the fact is not nearly as credible as the police reports written just hours after the crash,” the Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote in his fact-check.
O’Rourke completed a court-ordered program and the charges against him were dropped. He also had a 1995 arrest for jumping a fence at a University of Texas-El Paso facility.
O’Rourke has publically called the incidents youthful indiscretions and “poor judgment,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
“Those mistakes did not ultimately define me or stop me from what I wanted to do in my life or how I wanted to contribute to the success of my family and my community,” he wrote in the op-ed piece.
During his conversation with Smith on Saturday, O’Rourke repeatedly declined to answer a question on his fundraising total for the third quarter of this year, which ends Sunday.
“I honestly don’t know, but it’s a lot,” he said.
He also said he would not serve in the Senate for more than two terms (12 years) should he unseat Cruz.
When asked by Smith where on the spectrum he is between very liberal Democrats and the establishment types, O’Rourke answered, “I place myself in Texas.”