Investigations

Austin Energy employee intoxication manslaughter trial set for February

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Audit investigators discovered an Austin Energy employee suspected of driving intoxicated in a deadly crash was also misusing his city vehicle and hunting on the clock.

Jody Wood has been on paid administrative leave since April 12, 2018, which was two days after the crash in Milam County that occurred while he was driving his personal vehicle. He was supposed to be at work but told Austin Energy he was taking care of "personal business" when the Texas Department of Public Safety said Wood hit another car head on, killing 76-year-old Reynaldo Amaya-Charo of Austin.

The final crash report indicates Wood had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13, which is nearly two times the legal limit. Wood’s wife told the trooper her husband was on several medications for anti-anxiety, depression and pain, according to the arrest warrant. DPS also said Wood has a previous Driving While Intoxicated conviction. Wood was charged with intoxication manslaughter and Driving While Intoxicated Second Offense.

Following the April crash, City of Austin auditors started looking into what he was doing in his city vehicle in the months prior, and how he was spending city time on the job.

In a report released Wednesday, the Office of the City Auditor says Wood, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist for Austin Energy, violated city policy at least 24 times between October 2017 and April 2018 by repeatedly taking his work vehicle home and used it to hunt while he was supposed to working.

The audit report states in March 2018, two city employees reported seeing Wood on city property surrounding Walter E. Long Lake. They say his city vehicle was near a deer blind and deer feeder. Wood told the employees he was checking on Austin Energy’s transmission lines, but that location was not one of his assigned spots.

About an hour and a half later, the employees noticed the deer blind and feeder had been moved, and spotted fresh deer corn on the ground. This was on a Thursday during Wood’s normal work hours, according to the report. Wood reported working 10 hours that day.

"When he was expected to be working and was recording time on his calendar we found out he was going to a city park looking for deer, setting up a deer blind, putting up deer feeders," said Brian Molloy, Chief of Investigations with the Office of the City Auditor. "And that's not what he's paid to do. No city employee is paid to do that."

Wood denied hunting on city property and denied any knowledge of the deer blind or deer feeder. Wood told the city auditor's office he went to Walter E. Long Lake to inspect Austin Energy’s transmission lines and the physical security around the property.

In April 2018, Austin Energy towed Wood’s city vehicle from his home after finding it parked there without permission from Austin Energy management. The auditor's office inspected the vehicle and found deer antlers, two deer feeder batteries with dirt on them and the box for a game camera which are often used to capture images of wildlife.

Wood told investigators he collected shed antlers that he found at the lake, and would occasionally go to outdoor retailers — including Cabela's in Buda — during his lunch hour, but might forget to transfer his purchases to his personal vehicle at the end of his shift.

The auditor's office says it appears Wood drove his city vehicle home on at least 21 different days. They were able to track some of the activity by toll charges which popped up in areas outside Austin Energy's service area. He also lives outside the city limits and outside the service area. The city believes it paid for $50 in tolls related to trips that were not worked related.

Molloy said his office handed over its findings to Austin Energy, which is currently reviewing the report and will decide what happens next. Wood has been employed with Austin Energy since 2008.

His intoxication manslaughter case was set for a jury trial on Feb. 4 in Milam County, but the court coodinator tells KXAN the case is being reset.
 



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