There’s Still Plenty of Questions About the “Eric Garcetti Crash”

From the Times's security cameras you can see the quickly arriving squad car, the Mayor's SUV but barely the crash victim.

From the Times’s security cameras you can see the quickly arriving squad car, the Mayor’s SUV but barely the crash victim.

The LAPD, Mayor’s Office and to some extent the media are downplaying the significance of yesterday’s afternoon car crash in Downtown Los Angeles involving the Mayor’s SUV. Driven by an LAPD officer, the vehicle was driven into a pedestrian inside of a crosswalk causing her hospitalization. The the officer and his passengers were traveling east on 2nd Street towards City Hall when the crash occurred at Spring Street.

A video of the crash was taken by L.A. Times security cameras, but the resolution is so grainy and the actual collision occurs off-screen.

The LAPD dismisses the crash as “minor.” And with reports already streaming in that the woman was “crossing against the signal” it is possible that the city will use this crash as justification for its widely panned pedestrian stings.

But a look at the facts of the case show that instead of this being a lesson about safely crossing the street, it could turn into a lesson for the LAPD on how it desperately needs to improve the way the department investigates crashes. Here’s a rundown of some problems with the investigation as reported:

Problem 1: The LAPD Blamed the Victim Before Completing the Investigation

From the Los Angeles Times:

Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the woman appeared to be crossing 2nd against the light when the accident occurred, but further investigation was needed.

The LAPD biasses its own investigation by stating the “probable” cause of the crash without all of the needed information. We don’t know if the officer had a chance to speak with the victim in the crash or what further investigation was needed. We do know that the officer assigned blame to the largest media outlet in the city before the investigation was completed.

We also know…

The Times video showed only part of the scene because of the camera’s angle. It appears to show the pedestrian was struck as Garcetti’s SUV was passing a pickup truck stopped in the crosswalk.

…that at best the LAPD driver was driving unsafely. Even if Smith is correct that the woman was crossing against the signal, and if that is true the woman would have had to start crossing the street AFTER the signal was already a “Don’t Walk” for this to be true, than the LAPD driver wasn’t following basic driver’s safety.

If you see a car stopped at a crossing, you need to be certain that there is not a person crossing the street before proceeding. There’s a reason that pickup truck was stopped, and a trained driver should be on the lookout for why.

Problem 2: The Person Driving the Car Controlled the Initial Investigation

From the Los Angeles Times:

By then, Smith said, the mayor’s LAPD driver had already checked on the woman’s condition, told the other officers at the scene what had happened, and determined paramedics were on the way. He had also told the officer that he needed to take Garcetti to City Hall, but that the mayor and two other witnesses who were in the car would be available for interviews once investigators were ready, Smith said.

I haven’t been involved in a car crash in a long time, but I’m pretty sure that the person driving a vehicle involved in a crash isn’t usually the one that determines when he/she gets to leave the scene and when witnesses are interviewed. Giving special privilege to the driver because he’s another police officer, or because of who his passenger is, is one of the surest signs that an investigation isn’t on the level.

Problem 3: De-Emphasizing Crash Closes Opportunities

From the Los Angeles Times:

“This, by all appearances, was a relatively minor collision, except that the mayor’s driver was involved,” Smith said.

At least he avoided using the word “accident.”

Not everyone was so restrained

Not everyone was so restrained

But by treating the crash as just another “ho-hum these things happen” sort of event, Los Angeles misses a chance to insure that another crash is less likely. Even if the official narrative, that still needs more investigation, is true here are the questions we should be asking:

1) If the woman was crossing against the signal, why? Is the signal not long enough for a safe crossing of all pedestrians? Was a light out? Was there some other sort of confusion?

2) The pickup truck the Mayor’s SUV passed was already in the crosswalk. Was it there during the crossing signal? Did it disrupt the pedestrian flow causing some people to scamper against the signal to get across the street? Was the driver ticketed for parking his car in a crosswalk? That last question is rhetorical, people park their cars in crosswalks during red signals in L.A. with impunity.

3) Was the Mayor’s SUV stopped at the signal and if so was it the first car? If so, the driver likely failed the most basic rule of driving which is “look both ways before proceeding” and should be ticketed with no questions asked even if the signal was red as a stop sign and audio was screaming “look out unnamed female pedestrian!” If the vehicle was moving before entering the crosswalk, was the driver going at too high of a rate of speed to stop properly?

While there are more things we don’t know about the crash than things we do, at least the city can’t blame glare of the bright green spring street bike lanes as a cause of the crash.

As more news breaks on the story and investigation, Streetsblog will continue to cover.