Why Is Collision Investigation Important?

This is an excerpt from my new book Is Traffic Available? The Patrol Officer’s Guide To Collision Investigation

A crash could be a life-altering event for you, a friend or someone you love. When a crash happens, people look to us, the police, for help. People don’t care if you like traffic accident reports or not. They don’t care if you’ve taken a thousand crashes in your career or if this was your tenth. They just want your help. 

The collision report is more than just the event that took place on that day or night because what we do affects people’s lives. This is why we, the accident investigators, need to take pride in what we do and how we do it.

Some things in police work aren’t sexy and in the opinion of most, traffic accident reports are at the same level of going to the dentist. Ask patrol cops and they’ll tell you they’d rather take a domestic violence report than a collision report.

What scares cops so much about crashes? Is it the measurements, the diagram or is it the fear of the unknown? Is it the feeling of not knowing where to start on a five-car DUI roll-over crash at 2AM or is it because you’re out of your comfort level?

Well, I used to be one of those guys because I didn’t know what to do or where to start. I only had one ten-hour shift of traffic training during FTO and I only took report that day.  I can vividly remember being dispatched to a roll-over crash at 2:37AM (I was off at 3AM) and the dread I felt. When I arrived, I saw a downed light pole, two downed palm trees and a crashed car with a male in the backseat whose head was twisted in a weird angle. 

It was like a bomb exploded with tree parts and jagged concrete pieces from the light pole strewn about the street. Talk about feeling alone because the fire department wasn’t there yet.  I was screwed big time. How was I going to measure this? Where was I supposed to start? How was I going to draw the diagram? Where were the graveyard units!

Then it happened. There was bright light that made me squint and turn my head as I raised a hand to shield my eyes. Was it proof of life in a far-off galaxy, or was it a secret weapon designed by the military? No, it was the Traffic Guy and he walked with the swagger of a gunslinger in the Old West and the sound of his spurs clicking on the asphalt. He stopped, took in the scene and said, “I got it.”

I stood there with my mouth wide open and wondered, “How?”  I took a step back and watched as he worked his traffic magic like an artist painting a masterpiece or Beethoven conducting the 9th Symphony.

This might be a bit exaggerated, but it’s not that far from the truth. I was scared of crashes and I truly had no idea where to start that night. I felt helpless, which was not a good thing if you’re a cop. As police officers we’re supposed to know all the answers because we’re problem solvers. We’re finger pointers, not thumb suckers.

Well, at that moment I was thumb sucker just like some cops are when it comes to the world of traffic investigation. It’s not to put them down. It’s just a fact. Traffic investigation is mysterious to some and hated by others. It is also known as the best kept secret by those who work it.

In conclusion, traffic collisions might not be your cup of tea, but they’re part of the job, so let’s make the best of the situation and investigate them with the same enthusiasm as the “real” crimes.

Did they dent the hood?


I saw an unusual call holding the other night about a man and woman having sex on the hood of a car in a cul-de-sac. Not in the car…..On the car.

I drove into an industrial area and headed toward the cul-de-sac in question. I knew the area well because I’ve typed reports there before. I turned onto the street and followed the road as it curved to the left. As the street straightened out, I could see a man and a woman standing next to a car at the dead end.

There was a blanket covering the hood and the windshield. The blanket looked cozy. These people were serious about their car sex.

I stopped my car, which didn’t have a blanket on it, and got out as they continued to talk as if I wasn’t there. When they finally looked at me I noticed a “glow” about them. It must’ve been the mood, the lighting and the endorphins.

I said, “Hi. I’m here because someone called.”

They gave me a confused look at first.  The look changed when they realized what I was talking about as they looked at each other.

“You had an audience,” I said. “Someone was watching and called the police. That’s why I’m here.”

That was when the “glow” look turned to embarrassment.

I pointed to the blanket as I pulled out my phone and said, “I gotta get a picture of this.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

“Enjoy that feeling”


The other night I was working a patrol shift when I was sent on a call with a new cop. I had met him once or twice when he was in training and didn’t know anything about him.

We handled the call and then talked next to our cars. I guessed him to be 21 or 22 years old. He had a baby face and probably shaved once a month. His youthful appearance and wide eye look gave him the unmistakable look of a new cop.

“How long have you been out of training?” I asked.

He thought for a moment and replied, “Four months.”

After a few minutes of talking, I could sense an energy and enthusiasm about him that reminded me of myself when I was his age. I stood there and remembered when everything was new.

Every call was an adventure and I would’ve done the job for free.

I stood there and wondered what I looked like as a “Boot” with my shiny new badge pinned to my chest with absolutely no idea what I was doing in the new world of police work. After reflecting, I thought back to this new guy, who still had 30 years ahead of him.

He didn’t have the look of a cop who had seen dead babies, dismembered body parts, or sacrificed family time for the demands of the job. He also didn’t have the look of a person who had seen and done things regular people only saw in movies or read in books. He still had his “innocence”. The job hadn’t changed him yet.

After talking with him for a few minutes I asked, “Would you do the job for free?”

He got a huge smiled and said, “Yes.”

He went on to tell me how he couldn’t wait to go back to work from his days off and how fun it was to be out here on the street. I listened and silently remembered saying the exact same things when I was his age.

“Enjoy that feeling,” I said. “When I was new, I would’ve done the job for free too.” After he laughed I added, “I still like coming to work, but I want to be paid now.”

You can’t beat getting paid for what you love doing.

The candle call


You just never know when something new or different is going to happen at work.

A few weeks ago, I responded to a major injury collision on the west end of the city. After the crash, one of the drivers was transported to the hospital and later died. The other driver and passenger remained at the scene and stood at the northwest corner.

A group of their friends showed up and stood by with them. Before I knew it, one of the friends was sitting on the sidewalk playing a guitar. There was a hippie like feel in the air as other people sat down next him. The only thing missing were candles.

A little bit later I saw a guy holding a Jesus candle walk into the street from the opposite corner. When he was told to stay out of the street he said, “I want to put the candle out for the guy.”

“Put it on the corner,” someone told him.

“But he died over there,” he replied.

The man figured out he needed to stay out of the street and put the candle down at the southwest corner. He lit it and a short time later the flame went out.

About an hour later I heard arguing at the same corner where the candle was. I looked and saw a two guys yelling at each other as they prepared to fight.

Didn’t they see the police cars and the cops standing in the middle of the street? First the guitar, then the candle and now a fight? Was it a full moon?

We walked over and separated everyone. It was just bizarre and we shook our heads at the madness.

When it was time to leave, we called for tow trucks and took down the crime scene tape. As the tow truck drivers cleaned up, something caught my eye. The was a candle with its flame shining brightly in the night at the northeast corner. I didn’t see who left it, but it was a symbol of just how different this call was.

Now there were two candles on opposite corners. This was the first fatal crash where candles were dropped off while I was still there. Even after all these years, there’s still room for plenty of “firsts.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

He’s freaking weird


Have your ever had a conversation that left you saying “WTF?”

The other night I was at a crash when the tow truck driver pointed down the street and asked, “Do you remember the crash where the car went through the wall?”

“You mean the fatal?”


“I remember it, but I wasn’t working that night.”

With a look of lust the driver tow driver said, “She had a nice ass. What a waste.”

“Who? The dead woman?” I replied.


“How did you see her? Was she still in the car?”

“No, she was in the street.”

“Didn’t she get ejected?” I asked.


“So, you’re saying the dead woman had a nice ass?” I replied with sarcasm.

“She had a nice ass. What a waste,” he said as he shook his head.

I was speechless. That was the fart in the elevator moment that killed the conversation. There was no where to go after that.

As the tow truck drove away, I knew that tow truck man had just achieved Badge415 blog status.  Who says that? What a weird MOFO.

You just never know what people are going to say and you can’t make this stuff up.

I speak 7-Eleven


I stepped into the ambulance and saw a paramedic speaking to a man on the gurney. The gurney was tilted so the man was sitting up. The paramedic told his partner that he was having trouble communicating with the patient.

I sat down on the seat next to the paramedic so I could try and ask the man about the collision. The man, who was in his 30s, was from India and had a red 7-Eleven shirt on. They spoke back and forth for a few seconds as I waited to ask my questions. The paramedic still had the same look on his face while they tried to talk.

That’s when the movie “Airplane” popped into my head. There was a scene where the stewardess was trying to speak with two men who spoke jive. She didn’t understand them and an older woman stepped in and said, “Oh stewardess. I speak Jive.” The  scene is funny after all these years.

As a cop, I’ve spent plenty of time inside  7-Eleven. It’s a perfect place to stop and take a break. That also means I’ve spent a lot of time talking with the clerks.

I looked at the paramedic and said, “I speak 7-Eleven.

I jumped in and started asking the patient what happened. Within a minute he told tell me the entire story about not feeling well, his speed, direction of travel and the crash. I looked over at the paramedic and said, “I’ve spent a lot of time inside 7-Eleven.” That made him laugh.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s another favorite quote from Airplane…….

“A hospital? What is it?”

“It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”

You have to watch the movie if you didn’t get it.

That’s just weird

The other night, a gang unit came on the radio saying they were trying to stop a person on a bike who was trying to get away from them. I was close by and got there a moment after the suspect was caught.

When I arrived, the helicopter directed me into the alley where the officers were. I saw a Honda stopped facing eastbound and a police car behind it. There was also a BMX bicycle on its side.

One of the gang cops pointed to the Honda and told me the suspect broke off its passenger side mirror when he hit the car. After the collision, the suspect left the bike and fled on foot. That’s when they caught him.

The bicycle rider was the hit and run suspect? That’s a new one.

The victim was standing next to his car and I went to get his information for the report. Instead of a driver’s license, I got a blank look because he didn’t have one.

This call was already weird enough with the hit and run suspect being a guy on a bike. You might as well throw in another guy with no license to make it interesting. Maybe a circus was in town and we could have clowns too.

After I was done with the driver, I wrote down the suspect’s information. A record check showed he had a valid driver’s license.


So, let me get this straight. The hit and run dude on a bike had a driver’s license, but the guy driving the car didn’t????

Weird, right?

Weird is actually pretty normal for me at work. I wouldn’t expect anything else.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

“I made a slow down”


The other night a car made a right turn on a red light without stopping. It was as if the red light wasn’t there, so  I decided to stop the car.

He had a head start on me so I pushed down on the gas pedal to catch up to him. The engine revved on “old faithful” as my patrol car gained on him.

Once I was behind him, I threw on the overheads and the car pulled to the curb. After it stopped, I walked up as my red and blue lights flashed and bounced off houses and passing cars.

“Hi, can I see your license?”

The driver, who was 20 years old, reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. As he grabbed for his license I asked, “Why didn’t you stop for the red light when you made the right turn?”

The driver, who was understandably nervous, handed me his license as he said, “I made a slow down.”

“A slow down?” I asked with raised eyebrows. “The light was red. Why didn’t you stop?”

“I yielded,” he said as if  he was in a hot air balloon with a leak that was crashing toward he ground.

“What color is the light for yield?”

“Uh, yellow.”

That’s when an embarrassed look appeared on his face as he realized how silly his excuse sounded.

I have a feeling he’ll stop at this red light the next time he makes a right turn.

“It’s Deja Vu all over again”

A few years ago I handled a fatal traffic collision where a pedestrian was struck by a car. A few days after the collision, flowers appeared on the curb near where the body was in the street. Since then, flowers  have always been there.

A few months ago I responded to the same location for a major injury collision. Ironically, the crash involved a pedestrian who was struck by a car.

When I arrived, I saw a vehicle with front end damage stopped along the north curb. The pedestrian had already been transported to the hospital.

The details of the crash were eerily similar to the fatal collision. Everything from direction of travel to location were the same. Even the bodies ended up in the same general location.

Then it got weird when I saw where the car was. It was almost parked in front of the flower memorial from the fatal collision. If the driver only knew where he parked.

Yogi Berra once said, “It’s deja vu all over again.” That was the best way to describe this location.




Did you blow on me?


On Saturday night, I responded to a traffic collision where a vehicle collided into a wall. When I arrived, I saw a car on the side of the road next to a block wall that was painted gray. There were tire marks along the wall, which showed the car had bounced up against it a couple of times.

The driver, who we’ll call Jim, was in his 40s and was standing next to his wife. I walked up to him and asked, “What happened?”

The man said, “I dropped my cigarette and hit the wall.”

With a smile I said, “You know they say cigarette smoking can be hazardous to your health.” At first he didn’t say anything, but then managed a nervous laugh. I said, “Thanks for laughing at my jokes.Where’s the cigarette?”

“I have no idea.”

My quick-witted partner said, “I bet you never saw that on the Surgeon General’s warning label before.”  Jim didn’t get the joke, but I laughed because I get Matt’s humor.

While I was talking with Jim, I noticed a strange odor on his breath, so I asked him, “How many beers did you drink tonight?”


I said, “I smell something on your breath.”

His wife, who was standing to my right, suddenly blew air out of her mouth at me like I was a birthday candle.

With a scowl on my face, I turned toward the woman and asked, “Did you just blow air at me?”

“Yes,” she replied. After she said that I wondered if she was wacky?

I turned away from her as I looked at Jim. I pointed to a light pole as I said, “Let go stand over there so your wife doesn’t blow on me again.” He and I then walked away. After we were done talking I went back to my car.

A few minutes later Jim said, “I found the cigarette.”

I looked over and saw Jim pointing into the car with a smile.  I walked over and saw a cigarette with a burnt end on the seat. There was also a round hole in the seat that was burned.

The woman looked at Jim as she said, “This is my car and he’s not supposed to smoke in there.”

I couldn’t resist as I said, “He burned a hole in your seat too.”

She put her hands on her hips and gave Jim a look like she wished he had hit the light pole too.