Lake Travis, Texas

Douglas McWilliams, head of the equity capital markets practice at Vinson & Elkins in Houston, has become a focal point of controversy following a boating accident that took place on May 10, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The newspaper reported this week that after an outing near Austin, Texas, last month, McWilliams offered to ferry a group of lawyers from his firm on his boat. McWilliams was at the helm of that vessel on Lake Travis when it crashed on a sandbar in an area of the lake called Graveyard Point, according to local news reports. The late-night crash seriously injured two passengers.

What occurred after that is still uncertain but continues to affect McWilliams, who is no stranger to scrutiny. In early 2016, the capital markets and M&A lawyer abruptly returned to Vinson & Elkins after briefly deciding to join Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s Houston office, which opened in 2011. (Another former Vinson & Elkins corporate partner set to join Simpson Thacher at the time, Jeffery Malonson, also backed out of the move and subsequently resurfaced at King & Spalding.)

Douglas McWilliams

McWilliams, known for his roles leading deal teams on large oil and gas industry transactions, now faces a potential felony charge for leaving the scene of a crash. According to the Statesman and other local news reports, an investigator with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has filed a two-page arrest affidavit for McWilliams, who based on interviews conducted by the state agency was suspected of drinking prior to the accident.

But in a lengthy statement provided to The American Lawyer, McWilliams’ lawyer, Austin criminal defense lawyer Brian Roark of Botsford & Roark, provided a vastly different account of what transpired on that early May night on Lake Travis.

Roark acknowledged that a game warden with the Texas Parks service had ”recently attempted to obtain” a warrant for the arrest of McWilliams for leaving his boat ”to go get help after a boating accident several months ago.” But Roark said that leaving to get help after an accident is ”specifically allowed under Texas law.”

The statement provided by Roark notes that McWilliams had turned off his boat while it was still running after the crash and evaluated the injuries of his passengers. After being told that there was difficulty in getting a signal to call 911, McWilliams, despite having suffered a dislocated shoulder, left the scene to go find help, according to Roark’s account, which noted that the Vinson & Elkins partner had left his mobile phone at home.

“Over a month ago we provided 17 statements to the game warden from most people at the house prior to the accident and on the boat at the time of that accident,” said Roark in his statement. ”Every one of those individuals said that Mr. McWilliams was not intoxicated prior to piloting the boat. Additionally, witnesses said that he had gone to get help after the accident upon learning that folks were having difficulty getting in touch with 911. After receiving these statements, to our knowledge, not a single witness was contacted by the game warden to ask follow-up questions or clarify any issues.”

Sometime within the last month, the game warden contacted the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Austin for ”guidance on how to proceed on the investigation,” Roark said in his statement. But prior to receiving that guidance, the game warden “decided on his own to attempt to get a warrant for something that is not an offense in Texas and made misleading statements in an effort to do so,” added McWilliams’ lawyer.

The arrest warrant, which Roark called ”unjustified,” was withdrawn within 24 hours, he said. Roark noted in his statement defending McWilliams that ”a more professional review by the District Attorney’s Office will result in Mr. McWilliams being cleared from any wrongdoing.”

Darrin Schlegel, a spokesman for Vinson & Elkins, said in a statement provided to The American Lawyer that McWilliams had done nothing wrong.

“The facts as we understand them do not support this attempt by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to obtain an arrest warrant,“ Schlegel said. “Fortunately, that warrant has been recalled. We are fully supporting Doug and all of our attorneys involved in this unfortunate accident.”

McWilliams, 48, did not immediately return a request for comment by the time of this story. But he did give a statement to the Statesman offering an explanation for his actions.

“After finding out what time it was when EMS arrived, I believe I must have fainted or passed out for several hours from the combination of extreme pain I was under, the shock of the accident and the incredible stress I was under,” McWilliams said. “It’s the only explanation I can think of to account for the amount of time that passed before finally finding a place where I could call 911.”