APPELLANT'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM THE
FIRST COURT OF APPEALS HARRIS COUNTY
in which Keller, P.J., Keasler, Richardson, Yeary, Newell,
Walker, and Slaughter JJ., joined. Yeary, J., filed a
concurring opinion. Keel, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
Steven Curry, was convicted of failure to stop and render aid
after he hit a bicyclist, John Ambrose, who later died from
his wounds. The jury sentenced Curry to six years'
imprisonment. It did not fine him. On appeal, Curry argued
that the evidence was legally insufficient and that he was
entitled to a mistake-of-fact jury instruction. The court of
appeals overruled Curry's points of error and affirmed
his conviction. Curry v. State, 569 S.W.3d
163 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2018). Curry subsequently
filed a petition for discretionary review asking us to
examine the decision of the court of appeals, which we
agree with the court of appeals that the evidence is legally
sufficient to support Curry's conviction for failure to
stop and render aid, but we disagree with its conclusion that
he was not entitled to a mistake-of-fact instruction. We will
remand the cause for the court of appeals to assess whether
Appellant was harmed.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
agree with the court of appeals's detailed recitation of
the facts, so we quote it here:
This case arises from a fatal hit-and-run accident [that took
place on March 20, 2015]. Curry was indicted for the felony
offense of failure to stop and render aid to bicyclist John
Ambrose. See Tex. Transp. Code § 550.021(a),
(c)(1). At trial, Curry did not dispute that he struck
Ambrose with his truck and failed to stop and render aid. He
conceded that Ambrose died as a result of complications
arising from the medical treatment required by his injuries.
Curry, however, contended that he did not know at the time of
the collision that he had struck a person who required his
J. Saldivar, an officer with the La Porte Police Department,
arrived at the accident scene in response to a 911 call. When
Saldivar arrived, Ambrose was unresponsive and in dire need
of medical attention. Saldivar called emergency medical
services personnel to the scene, who in turn summoned Life
Flight to transport Ambrose to a hospital.
Ambrose had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. He
remained unresponsive, and he required a ventilator and
feeding tube. After his discharge from the hospital, he was
placed in a nursing home, where he later died.
Harris County Precinct 8 deputies investigated the accident
due to their expertise in accident reconstruction. They
concluded that a vehicle struck Ambrose from behind while he
was bicycling in the northbound lane of a narrow, two-lane
road. They based this conclusion on:
• the direction of the trail of debris in the road,
including debris from the bicycle, which was predominantly in
the northbound lane;
• the damage to the bicycle's rear tire, which was
bent out of shape and had a cracked rim;
• the lack of damage to the bicycle's front wheel;
• gouges or scrapes in the road made when the front
wheel of the bicycle detached as a result of the impact and
its front forks hit the pavement; and
• the location of Ambrose and his bicycle after the
The deputies concluded that a driver traveling in the
northbound lane could have seen Ambrose because his bicycle
had reflectors that were visible at night. In addition, they
concluded that the driver who struck Ambrose was aware that
the collision had occurred because the debris path showed
that the driver had swerved.
The precinct circulated fliers seeking the public's help
in identifying the driver who struck Ambrose. A citizen's
tip lead deputies to Curry. The front passenger side of
Curry's work truck was damaged, including its headlight
assembly and the quarter panel. The headlight was broken.
Police observed gouge marks on the fender beneath the broken
headlight. R. Gallion, the La Porte Police Department crime
scene investigator who examined the truck and processed the
remaining evidence from the accident scene concluded that
Curry struck Ambrose's bicycle from behind.
Curry testified that he did not think that he had been in an
accident the night that he struck Ambrose. It was dark and
the surrounding lighting was very poor around the accident
scene. According to Curry, he did not see anything in the
roadway and the passenger-side headlight suddenly burst. He
"believed that somebody either threw something, or hit
something, or something hit my truck, or that it was just
something that had just came up off the road." He
conceded that he knew there had been a collision of some
sort. Curry braked but did not stop, explaining that it was
dark and he feared the possibility of an "altercation
with someone else."
Curry's girlfriend, Rhonda San Felipo, also testified.
San Felipo and Curry were returning from dinner out at a
restaurant that evening. She was following him in her own
car. They were traveling between 30 and 40 miles per hour.
San Felipo could see the roadway beyond Curry's truck.
She did not see a bicyclist in the road. According to her,
Curry's headlight shattered, his truck "jerked a
little bit," and he braked. She thought "somebody
threw a bottle at him" from a nearby parking lot. San
Felipo did not see Ambrose after the impact.
Curry and San Felipo drove on a short distance to his home
where they inspected the truck. Immediately afterward,
they then returned to the accident scene in San Felipo's
car to determine what had happened. They slowly drove by the
area but they did not stop there. San Felipo said that she
saw the silhouette of a man, whom she thought might have
thrown the bottle. Aside from the remains of his headlight,
Curry said that he did not see any debris in the road. Nor
did he see Ambrose or his bike. He conceded, however, that he
would have found Ambrose and known that Ambrose needed help
if he and San Felipo had stopped and looked around for a few
Curry testified that he first learned of the true nature of
the accident several days afterward when San Felipo called
and told him of a newscast about it. He said that even then
he still was not sure that he had struck Ambrose. Curry
conceded, however, that he had contacted an attorney the day
before San Felipo called him about the newscast.
Clyde Rooke, an accident reconstructionist, testified as a
defense expert. He opined that Ambrose was not in the roadway
immediately before the accident. Rooke concluded that
Ambrose, whose blood alcohol content was more than twice the
legal driving limit, had pulled out onto the road just as
Curry's truck passed by him. Ambrose and his bike would
have come to rest elsewhere if Curry had struck him from
directly behind. In his opinion, the bicycle's rear tire
was too low to damage the truck's headlight. Because
Curry's truck sustained so little damage, Rooke opined
that a reasonable person could have believed that it struck
something other than a person or another vehicle.
Rooke conceded that his testimony as to Ambrose's sudden
entry onto the road was based on Curry's and San
Felipo's statements, not any physical evidence. He also
conceded that the physical evidence was consistent with the
deputies' reconstruction of the accident. If Ambrose was
already on the road when Curry approached, Rooke agreed that
Curry would have been able to see Ambrose from a distance.
Id. at 165-67.
appeal, Curry argued that the evidence was insufficient
because the State failed to prove that he was involved in an
accident requiring him to stop and render aid. Id.
at 165. He also argued that he was entitled to a
mistake-of-fact instruction because, even if he was involved
in an accident that would have required him to stop and
render aid, he was reasonably mistaken in believing that he
was not. Id. at 167-68. If the jury believed him,
Curry contended, that reasonable belief would have negated
the required mens rea that he knew that he was
involved in an accident that required him to stop and render
aid. Id. at 168.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
first thing that the court of appeals had to do was construe
the word "accident." Because "accident"
is not defined by statute and does not have a technical
meaning, the court of appeals relied on a dictionary to
determine its ordinary meaning. Id. at 167.
According to the court, an accident "encompasses any
'unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and
unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or
injury.'" Id. (citing New Oxford American
Dictionary 9 (3d ed. 2010)). Discussing our precedent, the
lower court acknowledged that the State had to prove not only
that an accident occurred, but also that the driver knew that
he was involved in an accident,  but it held that the
evidence was nonetheless sufficient on this point
"[b]ecause [Curry] was aware that a collision of some
kind had occurred . . . ." Id.
turned to Curry's argument that he was not required to
stop and render aid because he did not know that the accident
involved a person. In finding the evidence sufficient, the
court of appeals explained that, although the State used to
have to prove that the driver knew that a person was involved
in the accident, it no longer has to in light of amendments
to the statute. Id. at 167-68. According to the
court of appeals, "the revised statute dispenses with
the requirement that the State must prove that the defendant
knew that another person was injured in the accident. A
contrary interpretation would render ...