Serious road traffic incident

A blog post by Sgt Harry Tangye

(Some people may find this post distressing)


Why is the road closed?

Nothing worse than driving up to a closed road with no explanation. Nothing worse than driving past a scene at 4mph after a 2 hour wait to find 6 police officers doing nothing with two on their mobiles. Don’t they realise I have missed my appointment and now have to re arrange it. Don’t they realise I have missed my dinner I wanted with my family. Christ, what is this world coming to. Perhaps they could do with some more cuts if they can’t be bothered to do simple things like put diversion signs out for people, or get a shifty on so I could have done the things I wanted.

Well strap yourself in, we are going on a bumpy ride.

Serious Road Traffic Collision reported, and I’m on my way. I have done these before, hundreds to be fair, and I know that two of my units are also rushing to the scene. It’s about half an hour away on blues and twos but I know a local unit will be there before us. I listen to their update, it’s not good and they are trying to get some order of the scene but I can hear the quiver in their voice. This is a fatal. At least one dead.

I immediately organise with my control room for a family liaison officer to attend the scene. It gives them so much credibility with the deceased family if they have done so. The second thing I do is arrange Highways to arrive to set up a diversion. This is whilst driving at speed and ensuring I drive safely for the conditions as I don’t want to be the cause of another.

I arrive at the scene and my two other units are arriving with me. The local unit gives me a quick debrief. There are 3 cars at the scene, one on it’s side in the middle of the road, and another sitting parked with a huge dent in the front of it and the other unceremoniously abandoned in the hedge with devastating damage to it.

I need to establish what has happened and quickly.

My units are looking for witnesses, the ambulance is on the scene treating a trapped person in the car on it’s side, and the fire fighters are stabalising it so it doesn’t topple over and trying to release the casualty as well. The occupant is screaming, it’s a good sign until I hear, “I can’t feel anything”.

Her partner is out of the car and has his head in his hands saying, “There was nothing I could do”.

He looks scared, very scared.  

Other motorists caught up in the scene are saying the car on it’s wheels carried out an overtake where he shouldn’t and hit the other two. I send an officer to the driver to carry out a breath test.  I will need to do it to all of them, and if too injured, a hospital procedure that will take several hours.

I discover an occupant in the other car in the hedge. She is obviously dead with a terrible head injury. Almost decapitated. I cannot tell how old. Her face looks like ‘the scream’ mask with brain matter clearly visible. I see a wedding ring on her finger. I gaze at the key ring with a photograph of a young child swinging from the ignition. A pause, a little reflection. This must be my 150th or so person I have seen like this. At least no children hurt this time. Suddenly the scream of the causalty in the other car spins me around. They are making progress, and the casualty is nearly out. The air ambulance has landed and making their way over the field with a stretcher.

It’s been chaos, but we’ve gained some order. Obtaining witnesses first having secured the driver so we know he won’t escape in case he’s been drinking or on drugs. When a further witness comes forward and confirms what we suspect about his driving, I make a decision and send my double crewed unit to arrest the driver for suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. They leave. I have one double crewed unit and a local officer.

The world continues away from this collision and resources are tight, but I manage to secure 2 PCSO’s to attend the road block to turn traffic back. I have already heard that a motorist has vented off at the local officer for their being no diversion, and the officer gave him short shrift. That will be a complaint later.

I have called for the Collisions Investigation officer, (CI) who mark the scene, Scan it, and produce highly detailed plans and can give you information about the scene like you wouldn’t believe. I need to stop unnecessary boots stamping on my scene, destroying any bulb that can  be forensically tested to show whether it was lit or not, the CI can tell me a speed of the vehicles, they can tell me who did what where and when they collided, and whether any car lost control prior to or after the collision.

I call the Scenes of Crime for photos and further forensics, I call the vehicle examiner to the scene as there was a suggestion the brakes could have failed. The procedure to secure and collect the physical evidence takes several hours to plot all 3 cars, the debris, and the road itself. A lot, but if it were your sister, mother or father, would you like us to sweep their body up in the back of the van and have no evidence to prosecute any potential offender, or to never know what happened. It’s only an accident after all.

Or indeed to show the driver was in fact innocent with defective brakes.

Were the brakes cut or eroded? Is it murder, was it indeed an attempt at suicide? We have to find out these things so the Coroner can decide what caused this, and so a criminal court can bring to justice any offender and so importantly, to bring closure to the family.

It’s been a while and the scene is quiet. The casualty is gone, the deceased still in the car until the forensics are completed. To remove them will mean cutting the car up and we need to know more first. Fire have already placed a blanket over her to offer some dignity, away from prying eyes. The traffic starts to move, but a lot of it is caught between the road block and the scene, and they crawl through. It’s been two hours for some. I am on my phone to the Control Room updating them. The Collision Investigator is making his way up from the other side of the Force and will be here soon, and so we can’t touch anything now. We have the witnesses details, all of which are in shock and will be seen later. We have their initial explanations.

My other response vehicle is going to the hospital to check on the injured driver, and to try to obtain a breath test. The other one is with the arrested driver beginning a short interview. The cars driving by are looking at us and I feel momentarily guilty for not ‘looking busy’ but there is nothing to do right now. The family Liaison officer has searched the pockets of the deceased in the car. Not a pleasant job. He has the phone details and is trying to research the address. It has to be correct. He can’t get it wrong. But it looks like the officer is texting to passers by.  

We are in a group in the middle of the road, and receiving scowls from some motorists driving by…

So I ask you, to use that time in the queue to do one thing. Think about your family.

Think how it may be if your loved one was trapped in that car with a severed spine, think if you were never going to see them again.  

Think that that appointment probably can be rearranged again, and think about the family liaison officer walking towards the house with the childrens toys on the garden path.  

Then when you get back home, hug your family.

Original published as A Diversion from my day to day life on Sgt Harry Tangye's Blog 18/02/2016

Contact

Collisions officer
Devon & Cornwall Police, E Division Headquarters
Crownhill Police Station, Budshead Way
Crownhill, Plymouth
Devon
PL6 5HT

Tel: 01752 751215
Tel: Solicitors & insurance companies: 01752 751362

Non Emergency Directory (NED)

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