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.
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.”