Thursday, September 6, 2001

key in HPD
crash probes

HPD wants to cut how much
time it takes to probe
fatal accidents

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

HONOLULU POLICE are looking at ways to avert lengthy traffic tie-ups during investigations of fatal car crashes like the one in Kaimuki Aug. 26 that turned the H-1 freeway into a parking lot for eight hours.

Police Maj. Robert Prasser told the City Council's Transportation Committee yesterday that suggestions being studied include one to dispatch "on-site commanders" to accident scenes to coordinate not only investigations, but also traffic management.

Too often, Prasser said, traffic investigators charged with on-scene responsibilities do not have the time or experience to deal with calling in additional officers to assist in directing traffic or locating transportation officials to coordinate signals.

Assuring that more investigators can go out to a scene 24 hours a day, seven days a week also is a priority, Prasser said.

"We should have larger teams going out," he said.

Traffic Sgt. Robert Lung said the typical team shift of HPD's vehicular homicide branch has one to two supervisors and three to five investigators, all of whom might be summoned to a serious accident.

Because the bulk of investigators were attending classes on accident-scene reconstruction the week of the Kaimuki crash, only one sergeant and two investigators were on duty, Prasser said.

Additional investigators were found to help, he said, but "we scrambled."

Prasser said he also wants to incorporate an "outward to inward" method of investigating accidents that would allow lanes farther away from an accident to be opened sooner.

Additionally, Prasser said he would like the department to relax rules that require officers to rotate out of their assignments after five years so that those in the vehicular homicide branch would be able to gain more experience.

"A lot of this is really an HPD management issue, as opposed to throwing money at it," Prasser said.

Lung said it is important for officers to look at every aspect of a fatal scene, including speeding, braking, acceleration and deceleration patterns, because "once we leave that scene, nothing can be retrieved from that scene."

Liliha resident Douglass Meller testified that his family is frustrated that it takes Honolulu police so long to clear a fatal accident scene.

Meller, a state Department of Transportation employee, said the city should seek federal funding to hire a consultant that would bring new technology and training to the vehicular homicide division.

Meller also urged Council members to require that HPD provide annual statistics that would give greater details about the duration and location of traffic lane closures.

He noted that the city Department of Transportation's traffic control center is closed on weekends and was unable to help alleviate gridlock in the Aug. 26 crash.

Prasser told Transportation Chairman Duke Bainum he would return next month with a more finalized set of improvements.

E-mail to City Desk

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