Closing roads after accidents routine
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
The practice of shutting down roads and closing freeways to investigate serious car accidents may be frustrating for motorists but it's not unique to Hawai'i.
Police in Phoenix and Las Vegas, two cities that the Honolulu Police Department uses as benchmarks for policing practices and staffing issues, said that freeways and major traffic arteries there are routinely shut down to investigate critical or fatal accidents.
"We recognize that it is a huge inconvenience for the public, but it has to be done," said Phoenix Police Department Detective Anthony Morales. "We can't investigate a fatal motor vehicle accident while we're trying to dodge cars."
Los Angeles police and the California Highway Patrol follow similar protocols. Roadways are closed when necessary, even if it means traffic gets snarled, officers said. Because the accident scene is a crime scene, it's where the evidence can be collected, and police have to make sure they do everything right.
One missed detail or one piece of uncollected evidence can open the department, city and state to litigation, investigators said.
Detective Bill Redfairn, a former Hawai'i resident who is now an investigator with the Las Vegas Police Department's fatal accident detail, said it's not uncommon for fatal accident investigations to last up to four hours. He said he recalls an instance when a local investigation closed a major intersection and the surrounding surface streets for the better part of 14 hours.
"Once we clear that up (the scene), that evidence is gone," Redfairn said. "From a law enforcement standpoint, we have a death or potential death that has occurred and we are obligated to thoroughly investigate."
Since December, at least three serious and fatal traffic accidents have shut down the H-1 Freeway, snarling traffic for hours and prompting an onslaught of complaints to the HPD.
In the most frustrating case, on Dec. 22 a three-car accident in the H-1 westbound lanes near the Pearl City exit left a 52-year-old Pearl City woman dead. The woman was driving a 1993 Toyota Camry and was speeding in the far right lane when she swerved to the left to avoid stopped traffic. Her car hit a van, which in turn hit a Jeep.
Chief Boisse Correa is considering revising HPD's policy, and the HPD has proposed purchasing a $50,000 state-of-the-art traffic accident reconstruction simulator. The simulator would combine two forensic instruments with forensic computer reconstruction and an animation software program. The purchase requires City Council approval.
"HPD is concerned about the movement of traffic and is committed to trying to improve efforts toward that end," said Maj. Doug Miller, head of the HPD's traffic division.
Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.