By James A.
PSFM Secretary (Dallas Police Department – Retired)
recall the television show Dragnet, starring Jack Webb as a
tough LAPD Detective. Well, Jack when talking with a
witness, would always say, “just state the facts,” so here
are the basic facts:
years ago, my office became involved in the reconstruction
of a multiple vehicle collision that occurred on a highly
trafficked, 10-lane, Jersey barrier divided, section of an
Interstate Highway with inside and outside shoulders.
pre-collision scenario of the case involved a male motorist
stopping on the 10-foot wide inside shoulder of the roadway
to assist a female motorist with a flat tire on the back
right of her vehicle. The gentleman was in the process of
putting the spare tire on the vehicle when a marked police
vehicle stopped rearward of stopped vehicles. The officer’s
vehicle, according to witnesses was either half way or three
quarters of the way into the inside 12-foot wide lane of
travel with its overhead emergency lights on. The officer
remained seated in his vehicle and the vehicle was within
600 feet from the crest of a hill, rearward of his location.
The speed limit in the area is posted at 60 MPH.
Approximately ten minutes later, the driver of a large SUV
traveling behind a semi-truck in the second lane, on
approach to the crest of the hill, noticed that the truck
and traffic in the inside lane were slowing and then, after
cresting the hill, the SUV driver changed lanes into the
inside lane of travel to pass the truck.
collision scenario involved the SUV making front left
contact to the back right of the police vehicle. The police
vehicle, displaced forward left two rear tire marks on the
pavement and then made front to rear contact with the female
motorist’s vehicle. As a result of this contact, the female
motorist’s vehicle was displaced forward making front to
rear contact with the male motorist’s vehicle. During this
phase of the collision scenario, the female and the male
were standing between their respective vehicles and the
Jersey barrier and both motorists-pedestrians received
injuries as a result of this collision.
was a major accident with serious injuries and involved a
police vehicle, a team of Accident Investigators were
subsequently on-scene to investigate and reconstruct the
collision. During the on-scene investigation, the crash site
and immediate area were forensically documented.
As in most
civil matters, my involvement came several days after the
crash. Upon receipt of the case assignment from the SUV’s
insurance company, the scene was inspected, photographed and
forensically documented, including the investigating
officer(s) paint markings. An Open Records Request was
submitted and knowing the scene was forensically mapped, a
request was specifically made for their ‘raw data’ file(s),
a copy of the initial .dxf file(s) and a color copy of the
completed CAD diagram. The police agency, in response to the
request, only provided an 8½ x 11½ black and white diagram.
Now, as Mr.
Paul Harvey would say, here is the rest of the story.
members of my team noted a discrepancy between the police
diagram and our forensic diagram. It was obvious that the
location of the two rear tire marks left by the skidding
police vehicle on the police diagram differed from our work.
The police diagram depicted the tire marks several feet
closer to the yellow inside fog line than our diagram did.
scene investigation, numerous photographs were taken of the
tire marks and included photographs of the each end of the
tire marks with an elevation rod perpendicular to the fog
line, to give some lateral relationship between the tire
marks and the fog line. The photographs also well documented
the investigating officer(s) orange paint marks, denoting
the beginning and end of the tire marks. The police
‘at-scene’ photographs were then compared to our
‘post-collision’ photographs and the location of the tire
marks were similar.
Open Records Request was submitted, specifically requesting
the raw data file(s) and the initial .dxf file(s), including
the name and phone number of the officer responsible for
maintaining the files.
receiving the raw data and .dxf files, the information was
compared to our forensic documentation and diagram and they
matched within 1-inch +/-. It was also noted that each tire
mark was documented using a line code with one ‘shot’ at the
beginning and one shot at the end of each mark. Using their
.dxf file, it was determine that the tire marks and one of
the four nodes were moved laterally left in their final CAD
diagram, placing most of the police vehicle off the roadway
at the time of the collision.
contact was made with the officer who downloaded the data
recorder, created the initial .dxf file and subsequent CAD
diagram (not the investigating officer) regarding the
discrepancy, and he saw no reason to review and/or revise
the police diagram.
insurance company, based upon our findings and analysis,
subsequently filed a law suit against the police department
and this entire episode, with multiple diagrams and
overlays, was discussed in trial, before a Judge, Jury
Panel, three Attorneys, spectators and court room personnel.
The testifying officer (not the investigating officer) when
confronted with the documentation did tell the truth,
stating that the investigating officer told him that the
tire marks did not look right and to move them a little to
the left. Immediately following his testimony, the Judge
called for recess and called the Attorneys and testifying
officer into his chambers. After the recess, the Judge
announced that the case had been settled (favorably for the
Plaintiff/insurance company) and thanked the Jury Panel for
FACTS ARE FACTS!