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Crash Reports - why?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Crash Reports - why?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
August 10, 2012

What is the purpose of a crash report? Why should they even be filled out in the first place? Usually they are completed electronically and transmitted to IDOT. Sometimes they are completed manually, in a deputy's handwriting; i.e., printing.

Tell me what happened here. The report reads:

"Driver of unit #1 stated he was S/B Timberline Tr. Unit #1 inadvertently ran off the roadway and struck a mailbox."

Well, shame on that car. Why would it up and do that? And why do it right at a point where it would damage property under the authority of the United States Postal Service?

OK, so what really happened? Why would a vehicle leave the roadway and hit a mailbox in a 25MPH speed zone at 11:20AM on a Sunday morning?

The vehicle happened to be a McHenry County Sheriff's Department vehicle, a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, driven by Patrol Cmdr. Lt. John Miller. The crash report does not indicate whether Miller was on duty.

There is a protocol when a Sheriff's Department vehicle is involved in a crash. When vehicle damage is greater than $500, in order to assure an impartial investigation of the crash, often the Illinois State Police will be contacted, and a trooper will be dispatched to take the report. If a trooper is not available, then an officer from a nearby police department is called.

In this case, Sgt. Schmitt, a subordinate of Lt. Miller, wrote the crash report. I'll avoid the word "investigated", because nothing indicates any investigation was made. And who approved his report? Lt. Miller, his supervisor. And the driver!

Miller's squad car was damaged on the front and right front, with the front center being the point of first contact. What was the driver doing when his vehicle "inadvertently" ran off the roadway? Was he on the phone? Texting? Checking email? Using some electronic device? If you take your eyes off the road long enough, the vehicle's direction just might change.

The report does not indicate whether the vehicle was towed; that section was not checked Yes or No. The Contributory Cause was listed as "18" but the legend for codes is not part of the report.

In my FOIA request I asked for any supplementary reports or statements by any investigating officer of MCSD. None was furnished. Does that mean that Miller did not write out a To/From to Undersheriff Zinke and that Zinke did not write one to Sheriff Nygren?

Maybe the next time that a subordinate investigates a superior's crash, he could save some time by just writing "#1 hit mailbox". That's three words, instead of 21.

Needless to say, no ticket was issued, and there was no media release by MCSD. The report had this note in the diagram section: "No diagram. Vehicle moved." OK, so why not diagram what happened and where the vehicle was moved to. Were there any skidmarks? Were there tire tracks on the shoulder for some distance? Any ruts, driveways, culverts, signposts? How far off the roadway was the mailbox? Was it destroyed? Any witnesses?

Was a report made to the United States Postal Service? A customer service clerk told me today that a report was required.

This is only a big deal because it appears to have been kept quiet. If the Department had a policy of disclosing all Department-vehicle wrecks, then any one would not be a big deal, if it was properly handled.. How much damage is "more than $500"? Are drivers in wrecks automatically tested for alcohol and drugs? Even at 11:20AM on a Sunday? Even a Commander?

By the way, does anyone know where 2113 Timberline Trail is (Greenwood Township)? Google Maps doesn't know it.

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