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Crash reconstruction can help determine what causes serious, fatal crashes

From fender benders to serious crashes, Columbia police have responded to more than two hundred traffic of traffic incidents this month.

In a Special Report, ABC17’s Joey Parker reported that the police department dissolved its traffic unit in 2015. At the time, city manager Mike Matthes said it was because traffic was less important “in the grand scheme of things.”

While they are short staffed, there are five officers who have advanced training in crash reconstruction and use a mix of mathematics and investigation to find out how a crash happened.

Officers Nathan Turner and Scott Lenger are two of those five, although Turner is dedicated just to traffic and Lenger is part of the Community Outreach Unit. There are also two officers on the DWI unit.

Turner said the tools they use to reconstruct vary from crash to crash, but in general they’re looking at things like skid marks, witness statements and a car’s damage.

“We have to come back through and solve the problem backwards by seeing the end of the crash and then figuring out what happened at the crash and prior to the crash,” said Lenger.

Based on the length and curve of skid marks, officers can use mathematical formulas to figure out how fast a car may have been going, what direction a driver was going or where they were coming from.

The car and its damage tell another part of the story. Turner said they can tell which car made the impact based on physical evidence. Seat belts will also lock up in a crash so officers will know if someone wasn’t wearing a seatbelt if its locked too tight to cross over a person’s body.

“If you’re wearing the seat belt, it’s going to hold you back,” said Turner. “The airbag is there to protect you from hitting the windshield and steering wheel and causing more damage.”

Crashes go by priority for the Columbia Police Department. There’s a higher priority for injuries or if the crash is blocking an intersection. Despite the shortage in officers dedicated to traffic, Turner said they still take people’s crashes seriously.

“I understand that they have to wait and that’s frustrating when they’re in this major incident for them and they’re having to wait but we are trying to get out there,” he said.

Lenger said that while it’s sad to see someone’s life taken in a car crash or someone get serious injuries, they have to remain neutral and find the facts.

“I think it’s important especially for the victims and the victim’s families that I do my job properly and I treat everybody the same way regardless of what end of the crash they were on,” he said.

Officers said drivers should slow down, avoid distractions and wear a seat belt in order to avoid being in a crash.

“We have people that are out driving cars that are distracting them and they end up being a victim or someone who causes these crashes,” said Lenger.

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