STATE PATROL CAR ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION RECONSTRUCTION TAKES A LONG TIME
The Duluth New Tribune recently reported on why a police or State Patrol report/investigation of a car accident takes so long to get. Waiting for a police report or State Patrol crash report is frustrating to the victims, as well as our car accident attorneys.
The article noted that in just the past week, there were three fatal car crashes in Minnesota. The survivors what to know their causes and have other questions. In one crash, a two-year-old child died after the vehicle he was in was rear-ended on U.S. Highway 10. In a second crash, a Hawley, Minn., woman died when the SUV she was driving collided with a semi. Later that day, an East Grand Forks man died in a crash east of Crookston on U.S. Highway 2.
Serious crashes can happen in a split second, so why does it take weeks, even months to investigate and get the police report? Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said it’s like putting together a puzzle with few instructions. “That’s why it’s so important for every little piece to come together,” he said. Moorhead Police Capt. Tory Jacobson said while all parts of an investigation are important, some aspects are more complex than others. “Specific science comes into play,” he said.
Once the injured are tended to and traffic is diverted around a crash, officers begin gathering information at the scene. They’ll try to determine whether any driver was having a medical issue or some other impairment. A field sobriety test can be done to check for alcohol or drug use.
Some officers will interview eyewitnesses, and others will photograph vehicles and other evidence. “Stuff from the roadside, tire marks, brake marks, skid marks, those types of things,” Grabow said.
MANY CAR CRASHES, FEW ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION OFFICERS
In cases of serious injury or death, a crash reconstructionist is called in. The Minnesota State Patrol’s west central district has two such experts. The experts use their technical knowledge to try to determine exactly what happened. In the days that follow, they calculate weights of vehicles, speeds and many other factors. The Rochlin Law Firm lawyers also work with independent reconstructionists in many cases. Grabow said the most time-consuming aspect of crash reconstruction involves gathering data from a vehicle’s onboard computer, also known as the “black box.” Officers must first get a search warrant to do so, then download and process the data.
The rest of the gaps in information about the auto accident can be filled in through other means, including surveillance video from nearby businesses and additional interviews. In the case of the crash that killed the child, Moorhead police asked people who saw what happened to come forward with additional information. Jacobson said investigators received several valuable eyewitness accounts that way. Our attorneys also interview witnesses in cases we are involved in.
The process for a police report after an auto accident is long and deliberate, for a reason. “If you’re going to charge somebody, you have to be absolutely 100 percent sure,” Grabow said. Jacobson recognizes that people will always speculate when it comes to serious crashes, but he’s careful not to release too much information, too soon. “Among the community that is looking and reading and listening to what’s being said about this event is the people that are involved in it. It’s very tragic for all of them, it’s very difficult, and it needs to be handled sensitively,” Jacobson said.