MPD Accident Investigations probe recent vehicle fires [Montgomery Advertiser, Ala. :: ]
(Montgomery Advertiser (AL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 17--When investigating fatal wrecks and other traffic accident cases, police Sgt. B.J. Champlin and the Montgomery Police Department's Accident Investigations Bureau have a job to do besides mere traffic reports -- reconstructing exactly what happened.
Champlin and Lt. J.F. Davis, bureau commander for Accident Investigations, said technical and thorough methods are used to create 3-D computer renderings of vehicle pathways, speed and force of impact after a wreck.
"Historically, we rely on physics, skid distances, vehicle weights and friction of the roadway or the environment in which the accident took place. ... Through approved algebraic equations and formulas, we can get a minimum speed oftentimes on what vehicles were going prior to impact," Champlin explained.
They now have multiple modern tools at their disposal, including airbag modules to monitor vehicle speeds, braking maneuvers and acceleration, along with a high-tech computer software program called ARAS-360.
"The way the software is designed, it allows us to animate so we can actually establish speed. ... I can then import the Google image for that actual roadway," Davis explained.
The software and hardware used can create dimension to scale of an accident, accurately pinpointing tire tracks, vehicle fragments and roadway landmarks. That then can be lined up with Google Earth with surveying equipment to build a reconstruction of an accident on a computer screen.
ARAS-360 shows investigators views of the accident from the driver's perspective or aerial views, accurately simulates shadows by positioning the sun at the time of the accident, and many other details.
Davis and Champlin said they have used the imaging in court to get justice for crash victims.
"We conduct hours of research, investigation and reconstruction to speak for the victim, and to ensure that if there is a situation where we have to get justice for a victim, we have all the tools at our disposal to do so," Champlin said.
Why it matters
Within the first week of August, two people were killed in fiery traffic accidents in Montgomery.
On Aug. 4, police investigated a fatal crash on Birmingham Highway in which a vehicle flipped and caught fire about 4:45 a.m. Two days later, about 1:25 p.m., a Chevrolet Cavalier swerved off the Court Street exit ramp on Interstate 85 and became lodged underneath an 18-wheeler, causing the vehicle to combust.
The driver of the Cavalier was trapped and died inside the vehicle. Officials are waiting to receive final forensic reports before releasing the identity of the victim.
The accidents marked Montgomery's 10th and 11th traffic fatalities of the year.
Those types of accidents are unusual, but the Accident Investigations Bureau wants motorists to know what to do if they come across such a scene or their vehicle catches fire.
"We as a police department want to make folks aware that any vehicle on the road has a likelihood or tendency to combust if it's involved in a certain kind of collision," Champlin said. "Those incidents are extremely unfortunate, and we want to make the public aware of some of what you should and shouldn't do."
According to police, the first thing a person should do when a vehicle catches fire as a result of a crash is to pull off the road, shut off the engine and get as far away as possible, or at least 100 feet, and call 911.
Motorists are advised not to try to fight the fires themselves.
Champlin said in both incidents this month, people tried to use fire extinguishers to put out the flames.
"I know the inclination is to help save human life, but you have no idea what these vehicle are transporting," Champlin said.
Commercial vehicle could be carrying hazardous materials and passenger vehicles are loaded with combustible materials.
Champlin said having a fire extinguisher easily accessible in a vehicle can provide a few seconds of protection from flames, but it will not contain a raging fire.
"We don't want people becoming victims themselves."
What to do
If you have a vehicle fire, or come across one on the road, you should:
--Safely get off the road.
--Shut off the engine and get passengers and yourself out.
--Move at least 100 feet away from vehicle or as far away as possible.
--Notify the fire department as soon as possible.
--Provide accurate information of location.
--Include how many vehicles and victims are involved in the accident.
--Do not fight the fire yourself.
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