Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Traffic geeks crash cars in the name of science and justice

The pedestrian, wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap and headphones, is not moving. The car, closing in on 40 mph, is not stopping.

The collision is inevitable, which explains all the law enforcement types sitting nearby in bleachers and lawn chairs with notebooks and cameras in hand.

Welcome to another day of mayhem and mathematics at the Special Problems in Traffic Crash Reconstruction conference in Pinellas Park and Clearwater Beach this week.

Don't let the stodgy title fool you. The seminar is a week of techno splendor for cops and consultants who routinely show up at roadside collisions and piece together a tragedy using little more than skid marks, measurements and complex mathematical equations.

So, on this bright Tuesday morning, they're crashing cars into buses. Motorcycles into cars. Cars into bicycles. They're running over perfectly proportioned mannequins at various speeds and angles to simulate the carnage of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian.

And they're recording every minute detail to develop a baseline and an expertise in reconstructing real-life collisions.

"You've got the best of the best here in terms of both people and technology," said Lt. Nick Lazaris, who heads up the Major Accident Investigation Team for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

The seminar is the brainchild of the Institute of Police Technology and Management, a law enforcement training center based at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Nearly 200 consultants, engineers, instructors, vendors and law enforcement personnel from around the world are here, taking part in a weeklong series of classes, as well as the staged collisions on the grounds of the Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park.

Or, if you prefer, it's a week of geeks and guns.

Think I'm kidding? Consider some of the topics covered:

"Critical speed yaw or spin?"

"Crush, stiffness values, and force balance case study application"

"Using simultaneous equations to solve inline collisions"

Cops learn to distinguish different types of skid marks, and to determine the point of impact based on the direction and distance of vehicle or pedestrian debris. They use robotic mapping systems and data collected from vehicle computer systems.

And by staying on top of the latest technological concepts and breakthroughs, they're no longer forced to rely on tape measures and spray-painted lanes to reconstruct crashes. They don't need to shut down intersections nearly as long while doing investigations. And they're far better prepared to answer questions in depositions and court hearings.

"A lot of times we'll get to a scene and the cars have been moved, or the witnesses will have completely different stories," Pinellas sheriff's Capt. Glenn Luben said. "That's where this becomes so important. This is physical evidence. This stuff can't be argued.

"Sometimes an attorney will say, 'Well, this is just a theory.' No, it's not. I've seen it done, and I have the diagrams, video and photos to prove it."

The seminar comes at an opportune time for the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, which has recently added eight members to its major-accident team.

Between the academic commitment — deputies can eventually take a half-dozen accident reconstruction courses ranging from 40 to 80 hours each — and the toll of being summoned to so many fatal sites, the unit has a high turnover and burnout factor.

The unit responds to 70 to 80 calls a years, with maybe a dozen or more involving fatalities. The rest of the calls could have major injuries, DUI investigations or hit-and-run implications. Even calls without criminal possibilities are meticulously mapped.

"You have to remember that someone's loved one was killed or seriously injured in a lot of these cases," Luben said. "Those people deserve to know what happened.

"I couldn't sleep at night if I didn't think we were doing everything we could possibly do to solve every single incident we respond to."

Romano: Traffic geeks crash cars in the name of science and justice 05/21/15 [Last modified: Thursday, May 21, 2015 10:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  2. Funeral held for U.S. soldier at center of Trump fight

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  3. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.
  4. Unforgiving wildfires affect vineyard workers and owners

    Nation

    SONOMA, Calif. — When the wildfires ignited, vineyard workers stopped picking grapes and fled for their lives. Some vineyard owners decided to stay and fight back, spending days digging firebreaks and sleeping among their vines.

    Wilma Illanes and daughter Gabriela Cervantes, 8, found their home intact, but had lost a week’s wages and sought aid.
  5. O'Reilly got new contract after big settlement

    Nation

    Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network's top-rated host at the time, Bill O'Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, two people briefed on the matter told the New York …

    Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News after multiple allegations.