The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is seeing slightly fewer officer-related wrecks than last year, despite three accidents in less than 24 hours last week.
Police vehicles have been involved in 70 accidents through the first six months of 2013, down from 74 a year ago, according to reports from Augusta’s Risk Management Division. The officer driving the vehicle has been found at fault in 37 of the accidents this year.
“We’re running pretty close to where we were last year,” Risk Management Manger Sandy Wright said.
In all of 2012, 153 incidents involved police vehicles, with 78 blamed on the officer in the patrol car.
So far in 2013, April has seen the most incidents, with 19.
June saw only half the accidents it did a year ago. Three of the six reported were the fault of the sheriff’s office.
Accidents have ranged in severity from fender benders to the totaling of vehicles, according to the reports. A March 1 accident totaled a Richmond County patrol car after it struck a Habersham County Sheriff’s Office vehicle during Operation Rolling Thunder.
Two Richmond County sheriff’s deputies had wrecks in their patrol cars July 2. Off-duty Deputy Alan Alspaugh was involved in a two-car accident that sent both drivers to Georgia Regents Medical Center with injuries. Around the same time that evening, Deputy Richard Justice was responding to a home invasion call when his patrol car struck a curb.
The next day, a third officer spun tires in loose gravel, and his vehicle slid into a ditch.
The wrecked vehicles must be assessed by an in-house adjuster to determine the severity of the damage, Wright said.
“He writes what repairs need to be done to the vehicle, and the vehicle is sent over to the repair shop,” she said. “We have a list of shops that are approved to bid on the vehicle’s repair.”
Sgt. Everett Jenkins, of the Richmond County Sheriffs’ Office Training Center, said all officers must pass grueling driving courses before they are handed the keys to their own patrol car.
“Accidents do happen,” Jenkins said. “It depends on how many chases you’ve been in, but accidents could also happen doing low speed. We try to do better.”
At least once a year, deputies report to the Emergency Vehicle Operator Course Track in Blythe for training. The track features a circuit of about two miles and an obstacle course that simulates urban driving.
Just beyond the course is a large asphalt disc covered with water to induce sliding. While in a slide, drivers must correct the car’s path and return to the road. If officers fail to accomplish that eight times in 10 attempts, they fail the course, Sgt. Donnie Chavous said.
“It simulates rain,” Jenkins said. “When it’s wet, you want to simulate the rain like we’ve been having. When (the disc) is dried up, it simulates a gravelly area. We can’t prepare them for everything, but we do the best with what we have.”
After more than 25 years in law enforcement, Jenkins said he has yet to be involved in an accident.
“I’m just lucky,” he said. “I’ve done enough training, and I’m lucky.”