Witness Statements and Interviews
- After visiting the accident site, it is generally best to begin the investigation by collecting witness statements. Anyone involved in the accident should be included. Witnesses are usually the best source of information for determining the sequence of events that led to the accident. Frequently, a unit administrative investigator or law enforcement officer on the site has taken initial statements prior to the investigation team’s arrival. These should not be relied upon as the sole statements from witnesses.
- The mental state of the witnesses should be taken into account. They could be experiencing stress or may be traumatized by the accident. They may be on medication and require the approval of a physician before making statements or being interviewed. On the other hand, witnesses frequently are anxious to talk about the accident to anyone who will listen. Providing them with an opportunity to talk may help them.
- If the accident causes a psychological burden on a witness, critical-incident stress management services may be needed. Encourage the unit to contact the local Forest Service Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coordinator to arrange for the appropriate counseling services. If at all possible, a witness should not attend a group critical-incident stress debriefing before being interviewed. If the unit manager determines there is some critical need to provide an employee counseling before the team arrives, ask the unit manager to have the witness write a statement before the debriefing/counseling session.
- In some situations, family members of injured employees or accident witnesses can help the investigation process by offering insight into character traits or behavior patterns.
- To ensure candor, witnesses should be isolated from each other while making individual statements.
- Investigators should inform witnesses that the primary purpose for taking their statements is for accident prevention purposes. Let the witnesses know that you cannot assure the confidentiality of their statements. Include the name of the witness, work address, phone number, date, and signature in the statement.
- The chief investigator or QTI should prepare the questions for witness interviews. Other investigation team members may conduct interviews at the direction of the chief investigator. Interviews need to be taken in a quiet, private, comfortable location that is free from disruption. Provide frequent breaks. Depending on the amount of information needed, several sessions may be needed to conduct an interview.
- Ensure that the name, work address, phone number, date, and signature of the interviewer are included in the document. In some instances, the witness may have to be taken to the accident site or crash scene after the initial interview so the witness can clarify the initial statement.
- If employees are concerned that the interview may result in disciplinary action being taken against them, they may request union representation before or during an interview as stated in the master agreement (Weingarten Right). If a representative is requested, stop the interview until representation is obtained.
- All interviews should be recorded. An audiocassette tape can be used for this purpose. For complex investigations, it is best to have a court recorder who is a notary public or a videotape record of the interview. Always obtain the individual’s consent before recording an interview.
- After the interview is documented, the interviewer needs to review it and both the interviewer and witness need to sign that it is correct as stated. If telephone and transcribed statements cannot be signed because of the condition of a witness, timing, or availability, include a statement by the interviewer attesting to the time and date of the interview, followed by the interviewer’s signature.
An accident reconstruction is a scientific approach to solving the questions of how and why an accident occurred. This approach is usually performed by experts trained in the field of traffic accident reconstruction engineering and physics as well as law enforcement personnel that have this specific training. Reconstructing accidents requires a methodology that begins with known data such as vehicle final rest positions, accident scene evidence and vehicle damage. By working with this data in reverse, beginning with the known evidence of final rest positions along with information relevant to the collision, the Reconstructionist can resolve issues such as speeds, collision severity, visibility, driver behavior and other causal factors. An accident reconstruction is the culmination of the scientific analysis of the data gathering process formulated into a concise and coherent report which is backed by expert testimony.
What are the qualifications for an Accident Reconstructionist?
When selecting a reconstruction specialist, the experience, training, education, and certifications of the candidate should be thoroughly examined. The best approach is to require the candidate to have a strong background in a combination of accident investigation, the laws of physics, and law enforcement experience. Many expert witnesses have only one or two of the requisite areas needed to be qualified as an accident reconstructionist such as education and/or training. With courts becoming more and more critical of expert testimony, it is best to search for a candidate that can meet the court's criteria in the above mentioned areas.
The following is a general list of qualifiers:
- How many years of on-scene traffic accident investigation experience?
- How many on-scene traffic accidents investigated?
- How much specific traffic accident education and training have they received?
- University of North Florida (IPTM)
- Northwestern University (Traffic Institute)
- Texas A&M (TEEX)
- University of California, Riverside (Traffic Accident Institute)
- Current and past involvement in SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers)
- How many times has testimony been given/accepted in court?
- What certifications have been attained?
- A.C.T.A.R. (Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction)
- State issued P.E. license (Professional Engineer)
Content will be erased after question is completed.