RUSK, Texas (KETK) — On the night of Jan. 14, two Cherokee County deputies pulled off FM 851 onto County Road 1111, an even smaller road that dead ends in Atoy, a community southeast of Rusk with rolling hills, lots of trees and few people.
The deputies stopped near the driveway of a home owned by 67-year-old David Clark, a retired man who is in bad health and spends most of his time on the Texas Coast. The small blue house at the end of a dirt driveway is not easily visible from the road. Trees and large storage sheds that once held valuables acquired by Clark partially hide it.
In the weeks leading to Jan. 14, burglars nearly gutted the house of furnishings and appliances and hauled away tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of dollars’ worth of valuables, Cynthia Baldwin, Clark’s sister, said.
Desperate for help and convinced burglars would return, Baldwin says the family asked Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office to keep an eye on the house.
When deputies stopped at the driveway on Jan. 14, they saw the headlights of a pickup truck in the yard near the back of the house. They knew no one was supposed to be there.
One of the deputies got out and walked toward the truck in the distance. He paused at a metal gate near the entrance of the driveway.
Moments later, the deputy fired at least two shots. One struck the driver of the pickup truck, 26-year-old Justin Pegues of Jacksonville, who died at the scene.
Pegues’ passenger and friend, 35-year-old Anthony Brooks, of Rusk, was taken into custody and charged with the misdemeanor crime of trespassing. He was not injured.
What happened from the time the deputies arrived until Pegues was killed has not been made public – until now.
PEGUES TRIED TO ‘RAM’ DEPUTY
KETK News has acquired documents and conducted interviews with Clark family members and neighbors and attorneys for the Pegues family and Cherokee County, all which shed light on what turned the quiet neighborhood into a crime scene with a dead suspect.
The information uncovered by KETK News shows that the deputy, whose identity has not been released, fired his gun at least twice at the truck accelerating down the driveway toward him.
The deputy feared for his life and the safety of his female partner who was nearby, say those who are familiar with the investigation.
CATCH UP ON THE STORY
Robert Davis, a Tyler attorney representing Cherokee County, believes Pegues and Brooks were at the house to steal things.
“From the information that we have gathered, today I believe that the assailant — in this case who was shot and killed — and the person who was accompanying him were burglarizing the house on the premises,” Davis said. “In my opinion, I would say it probably was not the first time that the house had been burglarized by them.”
When Pegues and Brooks realized they had been discovered, Pegues took action.
Davis said as Pegues approached and passed the deputy, the deputy fired at least two shots, one of which hit Pegues.
It all happened in a matter of seconds.
Pegues’ pickup then hit the deputies’ car near the end of the driveway. Brooks was placed under arrest.
Based on the body camera footage and other evidence, there is little doubt Pegues knew he was about to hit a law officer when he drove toward the deputy, Davis said.
“I believe with confidence that we know what happened that night,” Davis said. “I believe that the deceased assaulted an officer with a vehicle and tried to injure or kill him and would have continued on to injure or kill other people at the scene including the other deputy.”
Toxicology reports show Pegues had methamphetamine in his body on the night of the shooting, Davis said.
The Texas Rangers who were called in to investigate the fatal shooting “found that the officer utilized justified force,” he said. “And that the suspect, now the deceased, was actually an assailant and utilized his vehicle as a deadly weapon to try and ram the officer.”
Davis said some evidence, including the body camera footage, cannot be released at this time. “Of course there is an ongoing criminal investigation to Mr. Pegues’ passenger in the vehicle so I can’t really reveal all that I have seen or share it (the video) with you.”
Brooks has only been charged with the misdemeanor crime of trespassing. A Cherokee County grand jury could be tasked with deciding whether Brooks should be charged with other crimes.
Cherokee County Sheriff Brent Dickson, who has been reluctant to comment because of the ongoing investigation, gave his version of what happened in a Custodial Death Report he filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office the day after Pegues’ death.
His report has only recently been made public.
Dickson says Pegues, “charged toward” the deputy in his truck.
“On January 14, 2021 while on routine patrol Cherokee County Sheriff Office patrol deputies encountered a vehicle on a property located off of Cr 1111,” says the sheriff’s account. “The deputies were patrolling the property due to reoccurring burglaries. Deputies attempted to make contact with the individuals on the property. Prior to making contact with the individuals the suspect used a vehicle to attempt to flee the scene.
“The suspect charged toward the deputy on scene with the suspect vehicle. The suspect drove through a partially open gate almost hitting the deputy with the vehicle and the gate. The deputy discharged his weapon fatally wounding the suspect driver of the vehicle. A second suspect in the vehicle was taken into custody. The deputies involved were not injured. The deceased suspect has been identified as 26-year-old Justin Pegues of Jacksonville.”
The report also says: “Subject (Pegues) was on private property where recent burglaries have been conducted. Deputies were conducting patrol in the area and observed a vehicle on the property committing the act of criminal trespass.”
Had Pegues survived, Dickson wrote that deputies would have charged him with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer. Pegues “used vehicle as weapon,” the report says.
On the night of the fatal shooting, Dickson placed the two deputies on administrative leave and called the Texas Rangers to investigate.
Davis said the Texas Rangers “found that the officer utilized justified force. And that the suspect, now the deceased, was actually an assailant and utilized his vehicle as a deadly weapon to try and ram the officer.”
Findings from the Texas Rangers investigation was among evidence presented to a Cherokee County grand jury.
The grand jury was asked to consider whether the deputy who shot Pegues had, among other things, violated Texas law concerning use of force by a law officer.
According to the Texas Penal Code, a peace officer is justified in using force if the law officer “reasonably believes there is a substantial risk that the person to be arrested will cause death or serious bodily injury to the actor or another if the arrest is delayed.”
The grand jury found the deputy did not commit a crime.
Standing yards away from where Pegues was killed, Cynthia Baldwin, says she is not surprised people were caught trespassing on their family land.
The family has owned tree covered land on County Road 1111 in the rural Atoy for decades. She said her deceased parents built a home there many years ago. More recently, her bother, David, built a smaller home closer to the road and brought in large storage sheds to hold many valuables, including a collection of yesteryear neon signs, he acquired over several decades.
“He liked to go go auctions. He collected things,” she said.
She said her brother suffers health problems and spends most of his time at a family home on the Texas Coast. His home in Atoy was often vacant.
Baldwin said a family member who checked on the house after it had sat vacant for weeks, found the door had been forced open and the house was virtually gutted.
She said that based on the large number and size of items stolen, it likely took burglars several trips to get it all out. A lock had been cut off one of the storage sheds.
“They took every appliance that was in there except for the refrigerator,” she continued. “And my brother and I cannot I figure out why they didn’t take that.”
She said it broke her heart when she learned burglars even stole her father’s large coin collection. “And that was hidden very well.”
Distraught and worried burglars would keep coming back, Baldwin said the family asked the sheriff’s office to keep an eye on the place.
On the night the two men were in the truck in the driveway, the home was vacant, she said.
“I was told that one of the men said they had permission to clear out the property. They didn’t. They didn’t supposed to be there,” Baldwin said.
Since the night of the shooting, the family has installed security cameras on the property. Baldwin moved into the house to keep an eye on it and has a dog that barks when people show up.
The metal gate near where the deputy was standing when Pegues drove toward him was knocked of its hinges and has not been repaired. Today a chain and straps hold the gate to a pole so it can swing open and shut.
Baldwin said the gate is locked almost all the time but that she still doesn’t always feel safe there.
THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING
KETK broke the news that a Cherokee County deputy had fatally shot a man. Acting on a tip, a reporter called Dickson, who was at the scene.
He said the victim was a white man and that second man had been detained.
Kody Cummings lives near the Clark home and was outside on the phone talking to his girlfriend the night of Jan. 14.
He said he heard noise and then two or three gunshots and wondered what was going on. He later got a call from a friend telling him someone had been shot and killed on his road.
Cummings was aware the Clark home had been the target of burglars.
He said he hated to learn someone had been killed that night “but if you are going to break in someone’s property. It is what it is.”
The day after the shooting, Dickson released the following statement.
Dickson also released mugshots of Pegues and Brooks.
In 2017 Brooks was booked into Cherokee County Jail on charges of burglary of a building and credit card abuse, records show. In November 2020, Pegues, was booked in after being charged with traffic violations, including driving without a license.
Kaila Parish cries when she thinks about the night of Jan. 14, when she received news that her son, Justin, had been shot to death.
“I got the phone call and they (a Cherokee County sheriff’s deputy) told me that Justin had been apprehended. I asked what happened? I don’t understand.”
A short time later, deputies appeared at the door of her Jacksonville home. “They said he was deceased. They didn’t explain anything else,” she said speaking between sobs.
She misses her son.
“We were very close,” she said. “It was more like you know, he was my best friend. I mean, he would come and talk to mean about all kinds of things. … We talked every day. He would send me a message every day. You know, every morning, ‘Good morning mom. How is your day going mom? I hope you have a wonderful day. I love you.'”
Parish is helping raise her son’s children. She said being with her grandchildren gives her comfort and helps prevent her from thinking about Justin so often.
Pegues’ funeral was held Jan. 23 at Autry Funeral Home in Jacksonville. He is buried in Still Waters Memorial Gardens.
His obituary shows that he was survived by his parents, his longtime girlfriend Lauren Ortega and five children; grandparents, Jimmy and Dorothy Pegues of Alto and Cindy Wilburn of Carlisle; two brothers and a sister. Since his death, Ortega has given birth to another child fathered by Pegues.
POSSIBLE CIVIL SUIT
The Parish family has hired Jacksonville attorney Jeff Clark, no relation to David Clark, to possibly pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
“Initially Mr. Pegues’ step-father, who is Jason Parrish, contacted me to get some questions answered,” Clark said in his law office. “They, of course, were heartbroken at the time. They weren’t sure what happened. … Why did this occur, who was there and so forth. They contacted me to obtain answers.”
Clark said he is convinced Pegues should not have been killed.
So far, Clark has not filed a lawsuit.
“I’m trying to avoid doing that, hence my dialogue with the attorney for the county.” He said a lawsuit would take three or four years to resolve. “This family doesn’t want to endure that every day for that long.”
Clark calls the case “complex.”
“The case has developed in such that I am still obtaining evidence, obtaining answers,” Clark said in mid-April before Dickson’s report was made public. “There’s a lot of dynamics involved in this. A lot of twists and turns.”
Clark has interviewed Brooks but has chosen not to disclose what Brooks told him.
“I have interviewed him in person in my office and I have interviewed him on the telephone several times,” he said. “We’re being a little bit delicate with that situation because he has a criminal trespass charge against him.”
“I’m involved in a dialogue with the attorney for the county and that is good for everyone involved,” Clark continued.
He wants to bring Mrs. Parish peace of mind.
“I’ve kept her fully involved of the developments in this case,” he said. ” I’ve shared with her everything I know.”
Clark said trying to find out everything that happened at the shooting scene and why has been challenging.
“There are some questions about that night and about that incident that we probably will never be able to fully answer simply because of the dynamics of what happened,” he said.