Editor’s note: This is an additional story in a series that will follow the Fairborn Citizen’s Police Academy. Look for the installment each week until the course ends.
By Whitney Vickers
FAIRBORN — Car accidents leave a number of clues behind that can deliver a story about how the event unfolded. It is up to Detective Shaun Pettit and Sergeant Paul Hicks, who serve as the crash reconstructionists at the Fairborn Police Department, to solve the mysteries of Fairborn collisions.
Technical crash investigators receive at least 120 additional hours of training, while crash reconstructionists attend at least an extra 240 hours. Training is meant to continue as the auto industry advances its technologies.
“If you don’t listen to everyone and look at the evidence on the cars — look at what the car is telling you, look at what the roadway is telling you — you could very easily be influenced if you’re not paying attention,” Hicks said.
After the Fairborn Police Department receives a call regarding a traffic accident, officers are dispatched to the scene alongside Fairborn firefighter/EMS crews if injuries have occurred or are unknown. The first officer on the scene is responsible for obstructing the area from oncoming traffic in order to offer protection to the involved individuals and checking on individuals for injuries.
Upon the start of the investigation, Pettit said it is essential to separate all witnesses.
“We don’t want them to be standing around together because my interpretation of a crash will be different from yours, based on age, life experience,” Pettit said. “… What tends to happen is if we have a group of people who have all witnessed the same incident, everybody has a different version. However, they get together and all the sudden it becomes one story.”
Each are interviewed according to what they saw, damaged vehicles are examined, tickets are issued and/or individuals are arrested and the roadway begins to clear as vehicles are towed if necessary.
The FPD has partnerships with three towing companies who are briefed on what happened so they can determine what equipment is necessary. Tow-truck drivers have 20 minutes upon receiving the call to make it to the scene.
As the technical investigation begins, Pettit and Hicks utilize a camera, chalk/paint, measuring and rolling tape, a laser and a VC 2000, which helps to determine the “stickiness” of the roadway, to determine how the event unfolded.
The crash reconstructionists then follow up with witnesses and injured individuals and examine the vehicle as needed so a diagram of the crash can be created. Enforcement action or the prosecutor’s office is contacted if necessary at this point.
Roadway markings, including scratches, gouges and grooves, skidmarks and yawmarks, scratches and fluids as well as ruts and furrows, are examined to determine the travel path of the involved vehicles, estimated speed and if the individuals went airborne at any point during the crash. This will ultimately allow investigators to create a field sketch of the event, which is eventually submitted to state officials.
A number of factors can determine how much damage occurs in a collision, such as speed, momentum and how well the vehicle itself is constructed.
“It’s not always the speed, but how much weight is going in,” Hicks said. “The momentum — that’s where we see a lot of damage.”
The crumple zone, or frame around the car, serves as a means of separating the cab of the car from the area on the vehicle where the damage is occurring. Individuals can check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, iihs.org, for information about how well their vehicles would stand up in the event of a crash.
“An airbag is designed to slow you down over a period of time so you don’t have an abrupt stop, because that’s what’s going to cause you injury,” Pettit said. “… They do come out hard, but it’s better than the alternative. You don’t want to slam into that steering wheel at 30, 40, 50 miles per hour.”
Paying attention is critical in preventing a crash, according to Pettit. He recommends keeping cell phones put away while behind the wheel.
“I don’t think people realize how much ground they cover when driving,” Hicks said. “At 35 miles per hour, you’re going to cover about 50 to 55 feet per second. On the highway, going 70 miles per hour, that’s about 105 to 110 feet per second you’re going to be covering. In three seconds, you’ll go the length of a football field.”
Hicks additionally highlighted OVI determinations and the field sobriety test, as well as tools used to determine the speed of a moving object during week four of the Citizens Police Academy.
This story will continue in part two, to hit stands Friday, Feb. 5.
Week five of the Citizens Police Academy will cover the detective bureau, crime scene investigation, collection of physical evidence as well as interviews and interrogation.
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532, or via Twitter @wnvickers. For more content online, visit our website or like our Facebook page.