A police coverup?

Aug 1, 2008 by

This case involves a night-time bicycle rider, who while  crossing a street, was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by the wife of a police officer.   It was later alleged that there were improprieties in the way the collision was investigated, that a conspiracy existed between the investigating departments, and that there were attempts to cover up the fact that she had been drinking.   GEI was assigned to review the case.

We examined the police reports and drawings, the skid patterns, and several color photographs of the scene, the vehicle, and the rider.   We visited the scene, and noted landmarks and other roadway features indicated the roadway surface had not been replaced since the accident date. We used an electronic accelerometer to determine the friction value of the roadway.  We then calculated the speed of the vehicle based upon measured skid marks and the roadway surface friction value. The calculated speed at the beginning of the skid marks was 50 mph.

We then researched published vehicle data so as to obtain weights, and dimensions of the vehicle. These data were combined with the measurements as recorded by the police, and were placed into a mathematical modeling matrix used by Texas A & M University in their Auto/Pedestrian courses of study.   These math models use nine matrices to determine vehicle speed in auto/pedestrian/cyclist accidents.   The model showed a speed at the start of skids of about 50 mph, and an impact speed of 30 to 32 mph, confirming our calculations.

While at the scene, we conducted a radar speed survey.   We sampled 130+ vehicles in the direction the driver was going at the time of the incident.  The slowest vehicle we recorded was 30 mph, the fastest was 55 mph.We found the 85th percentile to be 50 mph; that is 85 % were at 50 mph or less. We also found the “Pace”, a 10 mph range consisting of the greatest number of vehicles, to be 40 to 50 mph, and we found 79.3% of the traffic to be in the “Pace”.   The calculated average was 44.22 mph. This indicated that her speed was not unusual for conditions..

Trajectory data showed the bike was traveling at an angle to the vehicle, from its right to its left, and had a velocity of about 4 mph. This was confirmed by the statement of a witness.

We looked at the natural lighting of the scene. Adverse parties said that there was some sunlight at the time of the crash.We researched the sun’s position, and found that it was 9 degrees below the horizon at the time of the incident, and twilight had ended several minutes before the incident.   It was officially “Dark” when the accident occurred.

The investigating officer performed a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test upon the driver, while in the field.   This is one of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests given by police.   Essentially, HGN addresses the way the human eye is affected by central nervous system depressants, inhalants, and Phencyclidine.   Alcohol (ETOH) is a central nervous system depressant, and the extent of one’s blood alcohol content can be closely estimated by taking the angle at which the “Twitching” of the eyeball begins relative to the eye looking straight ahead.  Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) trainees are regularly taught to use this test to evaluate blood alcohol content of suspects within .02% .   The officer administering the HGN did not detect any impairment of the driver using this test.

Another claim was the driver was offered “caffeinated beverages”.   The inference was that the caffeine would “sober her up”. Actually, she was given water, and as all policeman know, caffeine will serve to only keep a drunk, wide-awake.   Time, and the liver alone will get rid of alcohol in the system.

We concluded that the vehicle was moving with the flow of traffic at about 50 mph at the start of  braking, the bicycle was crossing at an angle, and traveling at about 4 to 5 mph.   The bike was not equipped with lights or reflectors.  The rider was struggling in the dark to pump the bike up a hill, and crossed into the path of the vehicle, violating the vehicle’s right of way.   The driver was not impaired by alcohol.   Our inspection of the materials did not show where one officer asked, or ordered another officer to alter, or conceal evidence, nor could we find proof anywhere that if such an order or request were given, anyone acceded to the order or request.   We found no improprieties in the police investigation, nor in its conclusions.