In this module, we will take a look at strategies for documenting the accident scene. We'll emphasize the team approach and discuss the advantages of using the various documentation methods including, personal observation, photo/videotaping, taking statements, drawing sketches and reviewing records.
Once the accident scene has been roped off, it's important to immediately begin gathering evidence from as many sources as possible during an investigation. One of the biggest challenges you'll face as an investigator is to determine what information is relevant. You want to gather data that will help you determine what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Identifying items which answer these questions is the purpose of documenting the accident scene.
You won't be able to document the scene effectively unless you come prepared, so make sure you have put together an accident investigation kit for use during the investigation. As you'll learn, there are many ways to document the scene, so it may become quite difficult for one person to effectively complete all actions. The most effective strategy is to document as much as possible, even if you don't think the information may not be relevant. It's easy to discard clues or leads later if they prove to not be useful to the investigation. It's not at all easy to dig up material evidence late into the investigation. All items found at the scene should be considered important and potentially relevant material evidence. Consequently, a team approach is probably the most efficient strategy to use when investigating serious accidents.
Let's talk about the various methods you can use to document the accident scene.
With clipboard in hand, take notes on personal observations. Try to involve all of your senses (sight, hearing, smell, etc.).
If you are fortunate, there will be one or more eyewitnesses to the accident. Ask them for an initial statement giving a description of the accident. Also try to obtain other information from the witness including:
When taking photos, make sure you start with distance shots, and gradually move in closer as you take the photos. Below are some important points to remember about taking photos.
There is no requirement to take video. However, with the video capability of digital cameras, it's becoming more common to use this method. If you take video, the earlier you can begin, the better. Once the emergency responders are attending to the victim, begin taking video. The video recorder will pick up details and conversations that can add much valuable information to your investigation. Just remember not to get in the way. Below are some important points to remember when videotaping.
Before you take video, make sure your video camera is operating properly, the battery is charged, and, oh yes...take the cap off the lens.
Sketches are very important because they compliment the information in photos, and are good at indicating distances between the various elements of the accident. This is important to do because it establishes "position evidence." It is important to be as precise as possible when making sketches. Below you will find the basic components of a sketch.
Sketches are also valuable because they reconstruct the accident in model form and effectively show movement through time. Sketches also help establish testimony if it becomes necessary to defend against a damage or injury claim. The sketch may also help establish a claim against a supplier or manufacturer.
You don't have to be a professional illustrator to make a decent sketch, but you must be accurate in your measurements. Take a look at the sketch below as a sample of a useful sketch.
The first sketch illustrates the Triangulation Method which makes it possible to later pinpoint the exact location of an object. In this accident, the victim contacted a high voltage line with a metal tree trimming pole. The position of the victim's head is measured from three points. Notice the small circles with horizontal lines through them. These circles indicate where photos were taken. Also, North is indicated and all major objects are identified.
The second sketch illustrates one of the major advantages of sketching. It shows motion through time. In this sketch, you can see the direction the deceased and the bulldozer were traveling shortly before the accident and at the time of the accident.
Some Sketching Pointers
That's right...you don't just review records, you "interview" them by asking them questions. If you ask...they will answer. Below are some of the records you may want to interview.
Documenting the scene is important for so many reasons. Remember, the team approach works best because accuracy in reconstructing the accident is the final criteria. I think you'll agree that given all the time and money constraints, and complexity of the investigation process, two heads are better than one. Now let's take the quiz.
Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.