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How did this crash happen?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois Emergency Services Vehicles

How did this crash happen?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
March 17, 2012

Dented Sheriff's Department CarMCSD squad car 507

When you read a Crash Report prepared by a law enforcement officer, particularly one high up in the food chain, you ought to be able to figure out pretty quickly what happened and, likely, who was at fault.

On March 2, 2012, at about 5:52PM, McHenry County Sheriff's Department squad car 507 was involved in a two-vehicle crash on Route 47, 1/2-mile south of O'Brien Road. That's between Hebron and Woodstock, for those who don't know where O'Brien Road is. The roadway at that point is straight.

That was the evening of a snowstorm and, earlier in the afternoon, roads were very slick and blowing snow sharply restricted visibility.

Most crashes involving police vehicles are investigated by outside agencies. If a deputy's squad car were involved in a crash, the crash ought to be investigated by the Illinois State Police or a police officer from a nearby town. This means that a "more impartial" officer is writing it up, not that that always results in "impartial" reporting.

In this Friday evening crash two weeks ago, Deputy (Lt.) William Lutz said he was driving south on Route 47. He was driving a white, unmarked, 2007 Chevrolet Impala.

The other driver, Jennifer Norton, of Hebron, was driving a 2003 Ford Escape.

Numerous errors exist in the Crash Report, as prepared by Lt. John Miller #1431, of the Sheriff's Department. Was the Illinois State Police even called that evening to inquire whether a trooper was available to cover this crash, or did deputies "assume" (or hope) no trooper was available? Was Hebron PD called to request an officer to investigate? Or was Woodstock PD called?

The white unmarked squad car shows direct-impact damage in the left rear door and the fender over and toward the front of the car from the left rear tire. The diagram in the Crash Report shows the damage to the squad car correctly; however, the narrative report incorrectly reports the damage to the "driver's side rear quarter panel" without mentioning the major damage to the left rear door.

The Ford had damage to the front bumper, between the center of the bumper and the right headlight. However, the diagram shows the damage on the right side, including the fender and the right door, which did not have damage, according to photographs taken at the scene.

Now ask yourself this. How does a crash occur between oncoming vehicles that results in left rear door damage to one vehicle and right front bumper damage to the other vehicle? Am I the only one in the county who thinks the deputy's car was not "traveling s/b" on Route 47? I understand "traveling s/b" to mean that the vehicle was moving south in the southbound lane in a straight direction-of-travel, not sliding or turning. If that's true, there is no way that the damage shown could have occurred to the squad car.

Usually, the direction of North is indicated by an arrow pointing "up" or to the top of the page as you look at it. On this Crash Report, the "North" arrow points down. The diagram contains no drawing of the vehicles at the point of impact. The drawing is only of the vehicles where they came to rest. That final position is supported by one of the photographs taken at the scene.

The deputy's unmarked car is off the road on the west shoulder, facing south. The civilian's car is facing south in the southbound traffic lane. A MCSD squad car with emergency lights on is parked in the south lane with its emergency lights on, protecting the civilian's car in the traffic lane..

Skid marks in the snow indicate the deputy's car slid off the road in a southwest direction and quickly stopped. Was the deputy's car actually struck in the northbound lane and then went off the road sideways as it slid to a stop? Was the deputy making a U-turn on Route 47 at the time he was hit, as was told to me shortly after the crash? Did the deputy say over the police radio that his car had been hit while he was turning around?

This might account for the short distance that the deputy's vehicle traveled after being hit and for the almost-direct hit damage to the left rear door of the squad car and the front bumper damage to the Ford Escape.

Would this account for there being no ticket issued to Ms. Norton? If the crash wasn't her fault, you avoid a big mess in court by not giving her a ticket. But, if it wasn't her fault, whose fault was it?

The Crash Report has a section labeled Contributory Cause(s), primary and secondary. That section of the report was left blank. Why?

The squad car was towed from the scene.Yet the crash report box for "Towed (due to crash)" was left blank. An entry at the bottom of Page 2 indicates the squad car was towed by DeCraene's to the Sheriff's Dept.

Why was this report handwritten, rather than using the Mobile Crash Report ("MCR" (computerized reporting form))?

Don't MCSD crash-reporting guidelines require the reporting deputy (Lt. Miller, in this case) to include a diagram showing the vehicles in motion (direction before impact; position (or angle) of vehicles at the point-of-impact, movement of vehicle after impact to final resting place), since a Department vehicle was involved and towed from the scene?

Who was the more at-fault driver in this crash? By placing Ms. Norton as Unit #1, the majority of liability is assigned to her. Being #1 means that the County will not pay for the damage to her car, even if she was not at fault or not the major contributor to the crash.

Is there a well-known, but probably unwritten, rule at MCSD that, if you are called to investigate a crash involving a city, county or state vehicle, that you ticket the driver of Unit #1?

I don't mean to be picking on Lt. Lutz here; I don't know him. But if he did begin a U-turn on a slick highway during blowing snow and reduced visibility conditions, in a white car with no emergency lights visible to the side, and Ms. Norton came upon his car sideways in the road (with limited traction due to slick highway), was the crash really her fault?

The use of "in summary" in this Crash Report makes it impossible to know what happened on that highway. Did Ms. Norton state that she lost control? Did she say why, such as "I was traveling at 15-20MPH on a slick highway. Blowing snow sharply reduced visibility. When I saw a white car sideways in my lane, I slammed on my brakes and my car slid into the white car"?

When Lt. Lutz said "in summary" that he was "traveling s/b on Rt. 47", was he? For what distance? Was he actually completing a U-turn when his squad car was hit?

There is no way that he was driving straight ahead in the southbound lane and got hit while in the southbound lane. Just look at the damage to the unmarked squad car. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

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