Archive for Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Law officers learn from staged accidents

September 7, 2005

The car slammed into the pedestrian at about 30 miles per hour before coming to a screeching halt.

After the pedestrian's body wrapped over the front end of the car, his head smashing the windshield, the car stopped and he flew, landing about 12 feet away. His hat lay just where it was knocked off his head by the back driver's side tire, his soda can was partially crushed and both of his shoes flew off, one landing 73 feet from the car.

Shawnee police Sgt. Doug Orbin sized up the accident and called over to a group of police officers nearby.

"OK, now everybody come over and look at the car," he said. "Look at the debris -- see how it dispersed in a triangle formation?"

The accident was, of course, staged; the pedestrian was a dummy hanging on a rope from a backhoe and the car donated from Tiger Tow in Bonner Springs. But seeing even the fake accident demonstrated the physics of what happens. And it helped the officers learn what to look for when they are investigating an accident scene.

The officers recently watched the mock accident on an old strip of asphalt at the southeast corner of Johnson Drive and Renner Road as a part of the Advanced Traffic Crash Investigation course offered by the Shawnee Traffic Safety Unit for the first time this year.

Officers from 12 agencies took part in the course, including police departments from Blue Springs, Mo., and Prairie Village to Bonner Springs and Tonganoxie, as well as the Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties' sheriffs departments.

Orbin said the Shawnee Police Department decided to hold the class, which generally covered the dynamics of automobile crashes, since similar classes aren't available nearby. Given the response and the length of the waiting list, Orbin said the department plans to offer the class annually.

"We've been to several conferences and trainings ourselves, and it's not something readily available in the area -- you usually have to go to highway patrol headquarters in Salina," Orbin said. "It's just a chance for officers to advance their skills, to go beyond just filling out accident reports."

Orbin said the class was not easy, as it actually involved quite a bit of math, formulas and physics when it came to figuring out the speed of a vehicle from skid marks and damage to the vehicle.

In addition to two weeks of class time and bookwork, the officers viewed the live accident demonstrations, which included seeing a car run into a dummy perched on a bicycle and a motorcycle. Several items were placed in the fully-dressed dummy's pockets to better demonstrate the trajectory of objects in a real accident.

Matt Klein, a member of the Shawnee Traffic Safety Unit, drove the car for the pedestrian accident, wearing safety goggles, a helmet and, of course, a seat belt. He drove straight for the dummy and slammed on the brakes at impact, while the accident was recorded both from inside and outside the car for later use in the classroom.

"It happens so damn fast, it's unbelievable," Klein told the other officers once he got out of the car. "But I'll tell you what... you hit someone, and there's no way you don't know it."

Tonganoxie police officer Brian Daily said the class was helpful, and noted that the crash demonstration was especially important.

"Classroom and pictures just don't do it justice until you can really come out and see this," Daily said. "We've learned a lot of stuff here that you otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to learn, if not for this class."

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