Not too long back, I was on the scene of a collision case where a roadway defect was blamed for the loss of control that led to a single vehicle collision which resulted in major damages and serious injury. The collision was several years old, and the roadway had not changed over the time passed. My assignment was to inspect the roadway in the area of the crash, document it (by photographs and 3D scanning), and identify if there was a roadway issue that potentially led to the loss of control. What happened next was the result of going to the collision location and looking for more than what was to be expected. These things can help the case tremendously and make a huge difference in resolution.
What made this visit to the crash site even better was that there were other trees in the area, on both sides of the roadway, that had impact damage on them as well. A look around the area of the impacted trees found bits and pieces of vehicles that more than likely made the damage to the trees near where the pieces were located. There was no evidence of tree damage either a short distance before or a short distance after the roadway low spot, yet in the vicinity of this low place on the roadway the trees and scattered debris were like a morbid battlefield, telling the story of the mayhem that had occurred in this area. The bits and pieces were documented with photographs and mapping, then the part numbers were recorded. Some items were determined to be related to the case and were bagged up as evidence.
Heading back to the office with the finds, I took to a computer and completed a Freedom of Information Request for all the collision reports that have occurred in the area over the past 5 years. Once armed with these reports and having the details of the year ranges of the vehicles from the parts that were collected, parts and trees were matched to collision reports, like playing some childhood matching game. More importantly, the weather was documented by the investigating officer on each collision report. Though the troopers’ conclusions for the crashes were mostly the catch-all “too fast for conditions”, because of how these trees plot out in relation to the vehicle’s direction of travel, the crashes could all be positioned in relation to the roadway’s (apparent) defect and mapped out to tell show their orientation to the roadway flaw. This helped solidified the argument that the roadway had a problem.
At a collision scene, an investigator has to keep their eyes open not only for what they think they are looking for or for the threat of something happening to them while they are on the side of an active roadway but also for other things that might help them determine the truth about what occurred and required them to be out there and involved in the investigation. In the case of this specific roadway defect, the roadway’s design got together with mother nature and caused damage to potentially several vehicles and more than likely injury to drivers and occupants of the wrecked vehicles. The investigating trooper is expected to ensure that the wrecker service removes all the debris from the collision location; however, the dark of night, pouring rain, or both can make it difficult to locate all of the debris. The pieces and parts are left behind to be discovered at a later date. If collisions are occurring frequently on a specific area of the roadway, or at an intersection, there may be a common factor with the roadway that contributes to the crash. A scavenger hunt can tip the scales in favor of the injured party by showing that there is an issue with the area where the collision occurred.
Aaron (Al) Duncan II, ACTAR, is a senior vehicle reconstructionist with Warren. Prior to joining Warren, he worked for 23 years as a South Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper to include 10 years as a Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (M.A.I.T.) member. Al has investigated in excess of 1000 vehicle accidents and incidents, as a trooper. Al has testified multiple times in state courts and has been a court qualified as an expert in accident investigation and collision reconstruction. Al’s work expertise focuses on investigating and reconstructing vehicle collisions involving single and multi-vehicles, animals, pedestrians, motorcycles, heavy trucks and commercial vehicles. He is also a skilled user of forensic mapping technology and computerized collision diagramming software for collision scene analysis. Al is experienced in the data download and analysis of airbag black boxes (Crash Data Retrieval Units) in automobiles, pickup trucks and SUVs. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science from Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina and completed the Law Enforcement Basic Program at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia, South Carolina.