Summit Crash Team Sets New Standard for Regional Police Work
The Summit Metro Crash Response Team is rewriting the book on region-wide police investigations and how they can be undertaken with a virtually nonexistent budget.
The Summit Metro Crash Response Team isn’t your ordinary police unit.
The team, comprised of 30 trained investigators from 15 local police departments, reconstructs complex crashes to determine — with a high degree of accuracy — the cause of major accidents, according to SMcRT Operations Commander Brian Battaglia.
They’ve made recent headlines with reconstructions of high profile accidents and have gotten calls from cops across the state and country wanting to know just how they do it.
“We’re one of if not the first multi-jurisdictional unit in the country that conducts these types of special crash investigations,” he said.
It starts, says Battaglia, with a nonexistent budget. The team relies on grants, donations and a fleet of volunteer personnel to facilitate its operation.
The work they do, free of charge, provides critical technical information to area departments in need of help on crashes involving vehicular accidents, serious injuries and fatalities.
How it’s done
The Summit County Emergency Management Agency awarded the team with a $30,000 grant to purchase a state-of-the-art total station which uses laser technology to precisely measure distances, elevations, slopes and grades within a given crash scene.
That information — coupled with other sets of scientific data — is fed into a computer program that can recreate a crash in three dimensions and offers animations showing how an accident occurred from multiple angles.
To double-check its assertions and findings, each investigation goes before the team's executive committee.
“The end result of our work is high accuracy,” said SMcRT Administrative Commander Jeff Lyle. “When we take (our findings) to court, you take on our team and our resources.
We’ve been challenged just twice by defense teams during trials and won both times.”
To better utilize the resources of crash experts on a regional level, Silver Lake police Sgt. Dann Nivens and Stow police officer Jon Bastock — who passed away in February of 2011 — founded the team in 2004, said Lyle.
The multi-jurisdictional team includes officers from the Barberton, Boston Heights, Copley, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Hudson, Macedonia, Norton, Peninsula, Silver Lake, Stow, Tallmadge, Summit County Metroparks, Richfield Twinsburg Police Departments.
With the use of educational grants, officers on the team can forward their expertise in crash scene investigations. Classes range from basic training to becoming a reconstructionist expert.
Members of SMcRT run the gamut as many are in the process of moving from one level to the next, said Lyle.
"We strive to make each other better," he said. "Our job is to take new officers and train them so they can eventually replace us. So far, we're happy with what we've been able to accomplish."