How did Woodstock PD car crash happen?
January 24, 2011
I picked up the crash report this afternoon on last Wednesday's crash involving a Woodstock police car and two other vehicles. The report was written by Deputy #2002, whose name does not appear on the report. More and more departments are going to "Officer #xxxx", with an occasional illegible signature scrawled on the report, but the MCSD report is fully electronic with no handwriting.
The officer driving the Woodstock squad car was Ofc. Mitchell Falat, not previously identified in the MCSD press release, which is now posted on the sheriff's department website, or in the newspaper article.
Ofc. Falat told the investigating deputy that, while making other maneuvers in the intersection before proceeding westbound through the intersection with his emergency equipment operating, he "was informed that the fleeing subject with a warrant for their (sic) arrest changed direction, and began fleeing north." Was he assigned on that call, or was he monitoring another officer's activity? Was the subject who was wanted positively identified by the other officer? Was the other officer "called off" the pursuit, because he could not positively identify the wanted person as being in the car? Did all of that happen before the time of the crash?
Ofc. Falat stated that he stopped on westbound Lake Avenue, waved traffic out of his way, checked both ways and observed that all vehicles (on Route 47) had stopped, and started across the southbound lane, whereupon "instantly" he was struck by a southbound vehicle. That impact caused him to hit an eastbound vehicle stopped in the left-turn lane on Lake Avenue.
Numerous witnesses are listed in the crash report and confirmed that the emergency equipment was operating on the police car and that Ofc.Falat had entered the intersection slowly.
The driver of the southbound vehicle, Tara Madigan, told the investigating deputy that there were vehicles stopped in the southbound left-turn lane. Those would have interfered with the line-of-sight for both Ofc. Falat and her.
Ofc. Falat did make several changes in his direction of travel just prior to the crash. He arrived at the intersection on Lake Avenue from the northwest, as if he had driven from the vicinity of the police station or farther northwest. (Lake Avenue runs diagonally northwest-to-southeast.) He was using the emergency lights and siren on his squad car and, due to heavy traffic at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 47, he went around traffic in the eastbound left-turn lane on Lake Avenue by using the oncoming lane of traffic, and then he turned south on Route 47. He then made a U-turn, apparently intending to return to the northwest on Lake Avenue. Due to heavy traffic, he first made a right turn onto eastbound Lake Avenue and then made another U-turn. Because of heavy traffic on Lake Avenue, he used the oncoming (eastbound) lane to get to the intersection.
He says he stopped before entering the intersection, and witnesses agree. Witnesses reported hearing the siren and seeing the emergency lights on. Then he slowly entered the intersection and, as the investigating deputy recorded, "...observing that all vehicles had stopped, unit two (patrol car) continued through the intersection..."
Only all vehicles hadn't stopped. There was a southbound vehicle on Route 47 that he apparently didn't see before he pulled into its path.
I am reminded of a crash I investigated 30+ years ago, after which a driver said, "The other car came out of nowhere." (This is where you laugh.) Cars obviously don't come out of "nowhere."
Do I feel the deputy was wrong to issue a ticket to Ms. Madigan? Yes. It seems to me that she didn't have any real warning that Ofc. Falat was about to pull in front of her vehicle. Since he was crossing a lane of traffic with a green light, it was his responsibility to stay out of her way, not the other way around.
As I quoted the other day, the law allows authorized emergency vehicles to proceed past a red traffic light, but the driver is required to slow down "...as may be required and necessary for safe operation." Ofc. Falat did slow down, but then he apparently drove into the path of the southbound vehicle.
Which driver should have been place as Unit One? Unit One is the driver who is at fault (or more at fault)? In this case, based on the investigating deputy's report, Ofc. Falat should have been entered as Unit One. The City of Woodstock should cause Ms. Madigan's ticket to be dismissed and should pay for the damages to her car, the WFRD bill for her passengers and her, and the medical care expenses incurred at the hospital.
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