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More officer-involved wrecks reported in 2014

Sunday, July 6, 2014 8:37 PM
Last updated Monday, July 7, 2014 7:17 PM
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Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Ra­mone Lamkin has wrecked only twice in his law enforcement career, but he’d be the first to tell you that one is enough to shake you for a lifetime.

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Wrecked Richmond County Sheriff's Office cruisers will sit at Augusta's Fleet Management Office until it is repaired or used for parts. A car stripped to its frame can fetch several hundred dollars at auction.   TRAVIS HIGHFIELD/STAFF
Wrecked Richmond County Sheriff's Office cruisers will sit at Augusta's Fleet Management Office until it is repaired or used for parts. A car stripped to its frame can fetch several hundred dollars at auction.

His first was a rookie’s mistake. While attempting to round a corner in a hurry, Lamkin lost control of his cruiser and slammed into a pole.

In his second wreck, Lamkin said, he was trying to stop a vehicle when a driver making a left turn pulled in front of his cruiser. He was traveling at about 80 mph.

“By the grace of God, I was alive after that one,” he said. “Once you’ve been in a crash, you relive that moment over and over again.”

As the lieutenant over the department’s traffic division, Lamkin said he pulls from his experience to help deputies prevent accidents. He might have his work cut out for him.

Through the first five months of 2014, Richmond Coun­ty sheriff’s deputies were involved in 68 accidents and were found at fault 38 times, according to documents provided by the city. That’s four more accidents than through the first five months of 2013, and 11 more than in that period in 2012.

Accidents this year have ranged from minor fender benders that required virtually no repair to vehicles being totaled. Ron Crowden, the city’s fleet manager, said one of the department’s newer Dodge Chargers was totaled May 5 after it struck a deer, causing two wires to cross and creating a fire that damaged the engine compartment.

More recently, Deputy Tiffany Justice overturned her patrol car after striking a tree on Walton Way on June 13. A sheriff’s office news release said she veered off the road while trying to avoid a vehicle that pulled out in front of her. She pulled herself out with the help of a bystander and was taken to a hospital.

Accidents, no matter the severity, remain a point of concern for the department, Chief Deputy Pat Clayton said.

“The last thing in the world that (Sheriff Richard Round­tree) wants to do is to tell a loved one that their loved one has been seriously injured or worse,” he said.

The increase over the first five months doesn’t necessarily mean the department is on track to see more accidents than the year prior. In all of 2013, there were 148 officer-involved wrecks, down from 153 in 2012.

From January 1, 2012, to May 28, there have been 369 officer-involved wrecks, totaling more than $446,000 in repairs. Through the end of May, at-fault accidents by deputies have cost more than $45,000 in repairs this year.

Not all of those repairs are at the city’s expense. If an outside person is found to be at fault, the city will work with the driver’s insurer to repair the vehicles, Augusta Risk Management Manager Sandy Wright said.

Deputies found at fault must go before a safety review committee and could be asked to pay up to $750 of the repair cost. The vehicles then make their way back to Crowden.

“If it’s totaled and it’s our fault, then we use the car for parts for other cars that may need mechanical parts and the like,” he said. “Once we pick it apart, we sell it for salvage. We usually get around $500 for the car after we’re finished picking it apart.”

Though the number of accidents are high, Clayton said, it is important to remember that deputies spend more time in their vehicles than the average person.

“The average road patrol deputy is on for at least 12 hours,” said Clayton, who himself was found at fault in a minor fender bender. “We have to constantly remind them not only to drive safely but that they’re starting to get some fatigue setting in, so you’ve got to be even more vigilant.”

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TrulyWorried 07/06/14 - 08:50 pm
RC Deputies

I think 12 hours behind a wheel are too many hours. Having to be especially alert every moment dealing with so much criminality is stretching the limit for these officers. We have to be thankful that they are there and I realize that they are stretched to the limit. Thank you for what you all do.

jimmymac 07/06/14 - 09:18 pm

Why are deputies on the road for 12hrs. at a stretch? I could understand that overtime might occasionally occur but it shouldn't be the norm. As for using spending that much time in their squad car being the cause of so many wrecks seems like a cop out, excuse the pun. Maybe they should receive some defensive drivers training.

rational thought trumps emotion
rational thought trumps emotion 07/06/14 - 09:58 pm

38 at fault accidents totaling $45,000 in 6 months indicates most of these were minor accidents. For the hundreds of deputies using these vehicles 24/7 to include vehicle pursuits and responding to emergencies, etc. the reality is that it could be far worse.

Having deputies pay out of their own pocket for an at-fault accident because they were chasing a criminal should be done away with. It is part of the job and should be at the expense of the agency, not a deputy who barely makes more than someone working at McDonalds.

oldnuke69 07/06/14 - 10:21 pm
Truly Worried and rational thought trumps emotion,

You are both correct. The only time a deputy should pay is if he or she was doing something unauthorized that caused an accident. Some may disagree with me but I would be happy to pay enough taxes to make police officers and firefighters among the best paid jobs in the community. In return, they should exhibit integrity and reasonable judgment.

Travis Highfield
Travis Highfield 07/06/14 - 11:22 pm
Just so we're clear...

The deputies stand before a "safety review committee and could be asked to pay up to $750 of the repair cost." None of the officials I spoke with said there was a baseline penalty or anything like it.

TrulyWorried 07/06/14 - 11:45 pm
Thank you Travis

Yet a thought crossed my mind that should be considered. If our commissioners can go on retreats on the taxpayers' money then our deputies can be excused from having to pay for any damages. I am sure they do not cause accidents because they enjoy it, and at times they are just unavoidable. Or they come out 'at fault' even though they weren't. Happened to me.

willie Lee
willie Lee 07/07/14 - 05:21 am

If it's the deputy's fault, are they ever given a traffic citation? Everyone else would receive one.

itsanotherday1 07/07/14 - 09:05 am
Rational thought makes a good

Rational thought makes a good point. If you look at it as an accident rate rather than an absolute number, it probably isn't too bad. As far as a deputy having to pay, I would say that is appropriate if it was pure carelessness.

I don't know
I don't know 07/07/14 - 07:11 pm
The main point is...If you

The main point is...If you don't get to the call that you are dispatched to due to a wreck, breakdown or what not... then you are considered not there. Which requires other deputies to respond to your incident while the person who has committed a crime to escape more easily. Richmond County is having to hire more and more deputies to compensate for the loss of them leaving due to their salary and the surrounding counties. I know for a fact that 75% of these accidents were the officers fault. It's a shame that us taxpayers are having to pay for these losses due to the fact it was the deputies fault. They are only held responsible for $750 which is garnished out of their paycheck. All of this could have been avoided if deputies had the proper training and also wearing their seat belt. It's county policy....not state or Federal which requires Richmond County deputies not to wear a seat belt. And we all know state and Federal trump county requirements. Now a memo has been put out by the RCSO that all deputies are required to wear a seat belt thanks to Deputy Justice. And what was Georgia State Patrols final inspection of the scene or cause of the accident? Why hasn't the public been told of this information? What was the last recorded speed? Why did the RCSO put a memo out right after this incident regarding that they must wear their seat belts?

specsta 07/07/14 - 11:33 pm
It's All Bad

Here's a thought - stop driving like your license came out of a cereal box!

Deputies speed and break the law when there is no emergency, run stop signs, make illegal lane changes, etc. They are supposed to be the example of good, safe driving and most of them are not!

It's not surprising. Most law enforcement officers are recruited from the Augusta population, and Augusta has the worst drivers imaginable. Worse than every city I've ever lived in or visited. But you would think that training in safety and defensive driving protocols would make a difference for Augusta cops on the road. Sadly, no.

c.shelton13 07/08/14 - 01:31 pm
@I don't know

You are very much living up to your username. I've read your comment 3 times and it makes zero sense.

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