The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office will take a leap into the 21st century when it implements the latest in accident reconstruction software in 2014.
Last week, the agency received ARAS 360, a program designed to recreate the scene of vehicle accidents in a matter of minutes with the help of Google Earth and 3-D technology. The program – worth $5,070 – was donated by the Deputy J.D. Paugh Memorial Foundation.
“This software takes the technical complications (of accident reconstruction) and puts it into a form so that it’s easily understood,” foundation co-founder Michael Cardenaz said. “It’s almost like a video tape of an accident that was never videotaped.”
Cardenaz, a former sergeant with the sheriff’s office, said he understands the challenge of reconstructing an accident scene.
When he heard that an 8-year-old boy was struck by a van as he was boarding a school bus Dec. 9, Cardenaz said he decided it was time that the foundation step in to purchase the software the department has desperately needed for years. That case will be the first to be reconstructed with the new software.
The department’s Serious Traffic Accident Response (STAR) team recreates accidents using a team of four or five deputies working in tandem to photograph evidence, record measurements, interview witnesses and close lanes of traffic as they work.
Cpl. Chuck Benson said recreating a two-dimensional diagram of a scene with the department’s old program, MapScenes, could take more than 10 hours. It could take several days before the sheriff’s office could create an animated model of the same accident.
“Inevitably, if it’s that mechanical and that labor-intensive, there are going to be some mistakes involved,” Cardenaz said.
Adding to the frustration, the MapScenes models were almost too technical for a jury to understand and use in a trial.
“(ARAS 360) bridges that communication barrier of the traffic crash investigator using this technology and software to speak to the general public in their role as juror,” Cardenaz said.
With ARAS 360, the STAR team can reduce the time it takes to reconstruct a scene from several hours to just minutes.
“With this, we can go out and shoot just the evidence and maybe four landmark points and import an image from Google Earth,” Benson said. “We’re going from shooting 200 photos with the photo station to shooting maybe 20. It gets us out of traffic faster and makes us less of an inconvenience to the general public.”
Back at the office, deputies can input values into the program and let the software take over most of the work from there. In minutes, the program will recreate the scene using animated 3-D models, providing an accurate representation of what could have caused the accident, Cardenaz said.
“Almost like instant replay from any angle of an accident that was never recorded,” he said. “Right down to the accuracy of the exact make and model vehicle, color, pedestrian clothing, lighting, weather. You name it.”
Cardenaz said the foundation has also paid to train four deputies to use the program. Two will learn how to reconstruct the scene of a traffic accident, and two will learn how to recreate other crime scenes.
The foundation has also paid for lifetime software updates, preventing any future burden on the agency.
“We didn’t want the sheriff’s office to receive a donation of something that they could use, but then turn around and have to spend a bunch of money to be able to continue to utilize and implement the equipment,” Cardenaz said. “It’s a one-time cost. They never have to pay it again.”