Monday, April 13, 2009

No ticket in car wreck - no surprise

On February 13 the Northwest Herald carried an article and a photograph of the previous day's one-car crash involving a squad car of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department, driven by on-duty Deputy John Sosnowski, Jr.

According to the newspaper article, Illinois State Police Sgt. Robert Satkiewicz said that Deputy Sosnowski “was driving his squad car west on Charles Road when he hit a large rock with the passenger side of the car. The car then vaulted upward, eventually flipping over and landing in a ditch.” The photo showed the car resting on its wheels on flat ground.

The reporter wrote that the State Police was called in to "impartially" investigate the incident. Did that happen?

Because the article did not mention any citation issued to Deputy Sosnowski (or even that the accident continued under investigation), I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Illinois State Police on March 11.

Well, it turns out that is not quite how the crash is described in the Crash Report. Note above where the reporter wrote that ISP Sergeant said Sosnowski "...was driving his squad car west on Charles Road when he hit a large rock with the passenger side of the car..."

Here’s what the crash report on file with the Illinois State Police says: “Unit #1 was traveling W/B on Charles Road. Unit #1 left the road, traveled in to the ditch, struck a rock in the driveway located at 11208 Charles Rd. and vaulted over the driveway…” and the report continues with a description of the path of the car and its rolling over. The report also indicates that a (fence) post and 20 feet of wirefence were damaged.

The diagram in the Crash Report shows the squad car leaving the roadway by going straight ahead where Charles Road begins to curve to the left. The vehicle had left the roadway and driven into the ditch before it hit any rock. It didn’t hit a rock in the roadway and then leave the roadway.

This article is not intended to slam Deputy Sosnowski. Any driver can find himself in a crash, if he runs off the road in a curve. What might cause that? Driver inattention, perhaps? Thinking about end-of-shift paperwork? Reaching for paperwork on the seat or in a briefcase? Talking on the police radio or a cell phone? Reading the screen of an in-car computer?

The Contributory Cause in the Crash Report is “(Code) 15 Driving skills/ knowledge/ experience”.

Now, is there a difference between the newspaper report and the Crash Report? You bet.

Deputy Sosnowski got a huge break from Sgt. Satkiewicz, because no ticket was issued. And herein lies the problem. Any other driver – I’ll say, every other driver - leaving the roadway and rolling a vehicle would have gotten a ticket.

Is it fair to every other driver on the road that he, a civilian, would get a ticket in a crash like this, but a fellow law enforcement officer doesn’t? Why wouldn't Sgt. Satkiewicz just issue the ticket and be done with it?

Deputy Sosnowski is one lucky guy when it comes to tickets after wrecks. Just two years earlier , he wrecked his own car in McHenry County and didn't get a ticket. The report reads that he swerved to avoid a deer at 4:30AM and ran off the road in a 35MPH speed zone. That crash report was written by a McHenry County Sheriff's Department Sergeant (#1583 - name illegible on report).

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