Trooper Struck By Vehicle While Investigating Crash on Interstate Highway—Oklahoma

NIOSH LEO Report 2015-01
July 10, 2017

Revised August 4, 2017 to update Federal Highway Administration references and discussion text for recommendation # 6.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On January 31, 2015, a 30-year-old Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) trooper was fatally injured when he was struck by a passing motorist. The trooper had responded to a crash involving a tanker truck and was at the scene when the incident occurred. The tanker truck was overturned, blocking the left westbound lane of the interstate and extending into the median. One additional OHP trooper and two officers from the local county sheriff’s office also responded to the crash.

The two OHP troopers were standing in a westbound lane upstream of the lane closure in an area that was partially blocked to traffic, with their backs toward oncoming traffic, assessing the scene. At that time, a motorist driving in the westbound lane partially left the roadway, went around a patrol car, and struck both troopers. One OHP trooper died on impact; the other OHP trooper was critically injured and transported to a Level 1 trauma center.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

  • Distracted motorist
  • Visibility/Weather—dark, raining, wet roadway
  • Law enforcement officers (LEO) standing in partially blocked lane of traffic, upstream of the lane closure
  • LEOs positioned with back to the direction of oncoming traffic
  • Positioning of patrol cars—one before, one beyond
  • Incident occurred during scene size-up
  • Roaming civilians distracting LEOs
  • 911 communication system

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

  • State, county and municipal authorities should consider promoting public awareness campaigns for distracted driving laws and the risks law enforcement officers face while responding to highway/roadway incidents.
  • State, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies should consider developing a standard operating procedure (SOP) for establishing safe work areas for emergency responders at highway/roadway incidents.
  • State, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies should consider maximizing the use of patrol units and other responding emergency vehicles in the design of the temporary traffic control area as they arrive (i.e., deploying the vehicles).
  • State, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies should consider developing a standard operating procedure (SOP) that includes guidance on how to properly establish a temporary traffic control plan, including advance warning and transition areas for highway/roadway emergency incidents.
  • State, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies should consider developing and implementing a standard operating procedure (SOP) for response and vehicle/resource deployment protocols for highway/roadway incidents involving hazardous materials.
  • State, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies should ensure all officers wear suitable high-visibility, retro-reflective vests when operating at highway/roadway incidents.

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NIOSH Law Enforcement Officer Investigations

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.

Page last reviewed: September 18, 2017