Sergeant Struck by a Motor Vehicle on Interstate Highway—New Mexico
On December 5, 2013, a 47-year-old sheriff’s office sergeant was fatally injured when he was struck by a motorist while investigating several motor vehicle crashes on an interstate highway. The sergeant had been dispatched in response to reports of multiple, minor motor vehicle crashes under blizzard conditions. Disabled vehicles were situated on the shoulders of the northbound and southbound interstate lanes, as well as in the median. Officers from state and county law enforcement agencies had responded to the scene. During the response, the sergeant crossed the highway to speak to other officers. He was walking along the northbound shoulder, facing traffic, when a passing motorist lost control of his vehicle and slid onto the shoulder, striking the sergeant. After stabilization by fire and rescue personnel at the scene, the sergeant was transported to a nearby Level 1 trauma center, where he succumbed to his injuries the following day.
Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include:
- Weather—the occurrence of severe weather with little or no warning, causing low visibility and icy road surfaces for motorists
- Motorist—not moving into the left lane and/or slowing to a speed permitting a complete stop if required
- Scene management, traffic control—multiple, minor motor vehicle crashes in the same location within a short period of time, limited resources to commit to response
- Low-frequency, high-risk event—the number and proximity of weather-related crashes in the area was unusual
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences:
- Law enforcement agencies should consider employing continuous size-ups by an officer in position to monitor the entire response scene and assess and manage the risks of operating at a highway/roadway incident.
- Law enforcement agencies should consider implementing an incident command system when responding to highway/roadway incidents.
- Law enforcement agencies should ensure that officers are provided with temporary traffic control devices and that additional traffic control resources are available to respond to escalating incidents.
- Law enforcement agencies should ensure that officers wear suitable high-visibility, retro-reflective vests when operating at highway/roadway incidents.
- State, county, and municipal authorities should consider developing pre-incident plans and standard operating procedures for traffic incident management in response to highway/roadway incidents.
- Law enforcement agencies should ensure that all members receive training for conducting emergency operations at highway/roadway incidents.
- State, county and municipal authorities should consider implementing public awareness campaigns to inform motorists of the risks that law enforcement officers face while operating along the roadside and of the need to follow move-over laws.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. Through an interagency agreement, the National Institute of Justice funded a NIOSH pilot program to investigate line-of-duty deaths of law enforcement officers resulting from vehicle crashes and being struck by vehicles while responding to roadside emergencies and making traffic stops. These NIOSH investigations are intended to reduce or prevent occupational deaths and are completely separate from the rulemaking, enforcement and inspection activities of any other federal or state agency. NIOSH does not enforce compliance with State or Federal occupational safety and health standards and does not determine fault or assign blame. Participation of law enforcement agencies and individuals in NIOSH investigations is voluntary. Under its program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident who agree to be interviewed and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the death(s). Interviewees are not asked to sign sworn statements and interviews are not recorded. The agency’s reports do not name the deceased officer, the law enforcement agency or those interviewed. The NIOSH report’s summary of the conditions and circumstances surrounding the fatality is intended to provide context to the agency’s recommendations and is not intended to be definitive for purposes of determining any claim or benefit. The NIOSH report is not intended as a legal statement of facts. This summary, as well as the conclusions and recommendations made by NIOSH, should not be used for the purpose of litigation or the adjudication of any claim.