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Hero Down: Niles Police Sgt. Joseph Lazo Dies Weeks After Drunk Crashed Into Motorcycle Club

Kerrville, TX – Niles Police Department (NPD) Sergeant Joseph Lazo died on July 31, approximately two weeks after he was hit head-on by a drunk driver while he was participating in a ride with his motorcycle club.

Sgt. Lazo, 39, was one of four Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club members who were killed in the crash, KENS reported.

The suspect, later identified as 28-year-old Ivan Robles Navejas, is a “Mexican national” who was in the country illegally, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The motorcycle club – which includes active officers, retired officers, and many law enforcement supporters – had been celebrating the group’s birthday during a luncheon earlier on July 18, the Kerr County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) said in a press release.

Afterwards, they embarked on a celebratory ride together along Texas 16, The Kerrville Daily Times reported.

The group was traveling southbound at approximately 12:10 p.m., when a northbound vehicle suddenly crossed over into their lane, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The DPS said the driver slammed into at least six of the motorcycle riders head-on, The Kerrville Daily Times reported.

At least two of the bikes burst into flames, according to the paper.

Three members of the club were initially killed in the crash, and four more were rushed to the hospital in critical condition, the KCSO said.

David Weed, public information officer for the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, identified the victims who died immediately after the crash as retired NPD Detective Joseph Paglia, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Wayne Harbour, and Chicago Community Services Officer Michael White, according to The Kerrville Daily Times.

Retired Det. Paglia was serving as the motorcycle club president at the time of his death.

Harbour, a 75-year-old retired Eastern Airlines pilot, was a Thin Blue Line MC ambassador, according to KTRK.

White served as the club’s secretary, and was also a retired U.S. Army veteran and an NPD community service officer, The Kerrville Daily Times reported.

Weed said that the group was enjoying “a leisurely motorcycle ride” prior to the Thin Blue Line Foundation’s annual meeting when the crash occurred, KTXS reported.

Sgt. Lazo, retired Det. Paglia, and Community Service Officer White traveled together from Illinois to attend the Texas event, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sgt. Lazo’s family was not permitted to visit him in the hospital while he spent the better part of two weeks fighting for his life, WGN reported.

“Imagine waking up in a hospital room mangled and having no one there,” his sister, Kelly Vanderbilt told the news outlet on July 21. “My brother’s in a hospital in Texas. We can’t get to him. We would be on a plane right now, we would be there but…”

She said her brother was aware that his friends were killed in the collision.

“It’s just the ultimate betrayal,” Vanderbilt said. “They put their lives on the line and he goes to work and we expect to say, ‘I love you and be careful.’ But you’re off on a ride with your brothers, doing something in your free time, doing something you love to do, and your life is completely taken away from you.”

Navejas was originally booked into the Kerr County jail on six counts of intoxication assault with serious bodily injury and three counts of intoxication manslaughter.

ICE further announced that it had “lodged an immigration detainer” on Navejas, who the agency described as “an unlawfully present Mexican national,” KENS reported.

In addition to his new charges, Navejas was already out on $65,000 bond and awaiting trial for a 2018 felony aggravated assault charge when he crashed into the motorcycle club.

According to his arrest warrant, the suspect allegedly crashed a Ford Ranger into a male victim during the 2018 incident, pinning him between the truck and a second vehicle, KENS reported.

He then sunk his teeth into the victim’s back and bit off a portion of his ear, according to court documents.

The DPS arrested Navejas for allegedly driving while intoxicated in 2016, but the Kerr County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the case for an unknown reason, KENS reported.

Sgt. Lazo, the son of a retired Chicago police officer, joined the NPD in 2008, according to the Bugle News.

He was the recipient of “numerous accolades, including department commendations” and letters of appreciation from the community during his years of service, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant on Nov. 1, 2018, his department said.

Sgt. Lazo got engaged to his girlfriend, Maria, in February, WGN reported.

The couple planned to marry next year, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Sgt. Lazo Will be laid to rest on Friday.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Niles Police Department Sergeant Joseph Lazo, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.

Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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