Special report:

Right by Miles

Pieces of a puzzle

Forensic traffic engineers analyze the physics of car crashes to determine the cause. Three such engineers and a traffic accident investigator agreed that photos of Adam Jacoby's crashed Volkswagen Passat provide strong physical evidence that Polk County Deputy Scott Lawson rear-ended the driver's side of the Passat. The sheriff’s office disputes their findings.


The plunger shock absorber, on the rear under bumper, driver's side, left. “It was pushed in and sprang back out from force originating from the back, forward. It was cleaned by going in and out. Look at the difference between the dark part that went in and the dusty part that didn’t The plunger went in because the Passat was hit.”
forensic engineer Miles Moss

[Photos by crash investigator Bob Moruzzi]

The plate securing the shock absorber to the under bumper, driver’s side, right. “When you compare the plate on the driver’s side, where the shock absorber went in and rubbed the dust off, to the plate on the passenger side, you can see that the driver’s side plate is clearly deformed from the impact that pushed the energy absorber (shock absorber) in.” — forensic engineer John Bell

Scrapes on the inside of the outer bumper cover, driver’s side. “The scraping on the inside of the bumper cover means that something had to impact the bumper to cause the scrape.”
— crash investigator Bob Moruzzi

Inside rear bumper cover

Crinkling of the blue metal under the driver’s side tail light. “Notice how the tail light is undamaged but the area under the tail light is crunched in, which means that the damage could not have come from a tree because the tail light would also be broken.”
— forensic engineer
Joseph Wattleworth

Buckling on the rear driver’s side of the car. “This collapsing is induced damage consistent with the rear left side of the car being hit. This is a very good indication that force was applied to the rear of the Passat.” — Moss

Beyond the photos

[Polk County Sheriff photo]

The crash scene May 30, 2002

Experts look beyond photos, to see if other evidence fits -- and they say it does in this case.

  • Lawson’s radio transmissions.
    Less than a minute before the Passat went off the road Lawson was right behind it: “Close enough at night to read aloud that a 5 in the license plate was not an S.” — Bell
    Lawson yelled “Oops” into his car radio and said the car had just crashed. “It is very likely that the same thing that made Lawson yell “oops” is what made the Passat go into the trees.” — Moruzzi
  • Lawson's knee and chest injuries.
    Lawson said he hurt himself pulling Adam Jacoby from his wrecked car. But Moss said the injuries are consistent with frontal impact, when the chest hits the steering wheel and the knee hits the dash or steering column. The injuries “are consistent with the kind of frontal impact that would occur if he hit the Passatt from the rear.”

Polk County Sheriff investigator’s diagram, red labels have been added.

  • Skid marks. The Passat tire marks begin after a curve, and not on the road itself but on the shoulder. “The tire marks show that the car made the curve and began to yaw out of control 250 feet after the curve. It is not tracking but sliding sidewards, not leaving tire marks on the road. The tire marks begin on the shoulder because something knocked the car off the road.”
    — Bell

Don Morris | Times

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