May 30, 2011 | Mark Paradies

Monday Accident & Lessons Learned: Killed While Investigating an Accident

A Houston police officer was killed by a drunk driver while investigating a traffic accident.

Here’s the story:

The road was blocked for the investigation and the officer was interviewing a witness.

It was 3:15 in the morning on the Houston Loop Road.

The drunk drove through the barrier that police had set up.

What is the lesson we should learn?

That we all need to consider the risks even when investigating an accident.

I don’t know much about the adequacy of the barriers in this case. After all, the story doesn’t tell us much about the scene. But we can still consider the accident and perhaps learn to prevent future investigative accidents. That’s the least we should do from this tragedy.

Thoughts we should have before starting any investigation ….

1. What are the hazards (sources of energy) at the investigation scene?

  • electrical
  • height
  • chemical
  • biological
  • kinetic (in this case, moving cars)
  • radiological
  • slippery surfaces (falling hazard)

Next we can analyze the types of safeguards we need to put in place, and their strength, to keep the investigative team safe.

In this case, what was the strength of the barricades?

Were they flares? Tape and cones? Police cars? concrete walls?

The first choice would be to remove the hazard or remove the target.

Since we have little control over the drunk driver, we can only look at removing the target or providing adequate barricades.

A question for this accident would be, could we conduct the interview in some sort of safe zone where traffic could not impede even if barricades were run?

Next, we could guard the target (the investigative team) with physical safeguards – the stronger the better.

This is probably what they tried to do.

The post accident question to ask would be … Were the barricades strong enough?

The pre-accident question to ask is … For the potential hazard (including drunk drivers at 3:15 AM) what sort of safeguard should we put in place if being on the road is imperative?

In this case, relying on the goodness of the driver is a dangerous practice.

Of course, there is no excuse for driving drunk. But if you are going to investigate an accident on a roadway, you must anticipate less than optimal drivers including those who are fatigued and drunk. So your barricade must be strong enough to cope with this ever present hazard.

All investigators should learn from this tragic accident and translate this example to the scene of the next accident you investigate.

Identify the hazards and make sure that you have adequate safeguards to keep your investigative team safe.

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