The Gainesville Automobile Collision Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC comment on the astounding number of traffic accidents connected to law enforcement officials which have occurred throughout Florida in recent years. As reported by the Ocala Star Banner, “[s]ince 2011, the FHP has recorded more than 1,200 accidents involving troopers across the state.” Because this figure accounts for all trooper-related accidents, regardless of whether the officer was at fault, there are two primary concerns raised—public safety and officer safety—each of which we will discuss in turn.
With regard to ‘public safety’ in trooper-related accidents, the term is intended as a reference to crashes in which the actions of a law enforcement official either caused or contributed to their occurrence. Often time, drivers operate their vehicles under the false misconception that the likelihood of being struck by a law enforcement officer is an improbability. However, we must remember that officers, too, are human, and therefore should be treated no differently than other types of motorists that share our roadways.
Despite the fact that officers must undergo special driver training, errors in driving can occur no matter how much skill, training, or experience a motorist has. In fact, what are the requirements to become an officer?-AND-how much training do officers actually receive?
Well according to FHP Recruitment information, the requirements are so limited that an individual can potentially become an FHP trooper, complete with their own patrol vehicle, within less than 2 years of having reached the age of majority. While the thought of a 19-year-old or 20-year-old law enforcement officer may sound quite shocking, Florida permits troopers of this age, so long as the recruit meets the requirements and completes training.
This is highly concerning to many, given that the primary purpose of FHP is to safeguard our roadways, and troopers that are very young in age, may lack the maturity and driving experience to safely manage the responsibility of being a patrol officer. An example of this can perhaps be found in a May 18th accident along I-75 in Ocala, in which 20-year old FHP trooper, Raul Umana, lost control of his patrol car after improperly attempting to maneuver a U-turn, causing a head-on collision with a vehicle being driven by 28-year-old Christea Jones. As a result of the initial crash, Jones’ vehicle veered out of control and was struck by another vehicle, and then collided with a semi-tractor trailer before coming to a stop, at which point Jones’ car caught fire.
In the aftermath of this horrific sequence of events, three children, ages 2, 5, and 7, were critically injured, and had to be transported via helicopter to UF Health Shands hospital in Gainesville. FHP says that Jones was also seriously injured in the crash. In addition, the drivers of the other two vehicles and Trooper Umana also sustained minor injuries. While authorities say the trooper, who had been patrolling on his own since February, did pass all the requirements, his actions in causing this multiple-vehicle crash certainly give rise to concern over whether his age and lack of driving experience may have played a role.
In contrast to public safety issues associated with collisions involving law enforcement negligence, we must also not forget issues of officer safety, in accidents in which an officer is injured or killed, through no fault of their own, as they carry out their official duties. We recently discussed the concerns over officer-safety, following a May 3rd crash, which killed trooper Chelsea Richards, as she was investigating a collision that had previously occurred on I-75.
In summary, drivers are no more invincible from injury or fatality caused by the negligence of a law enforcement official, than they are with any other person that shares a roadway. Yet at the same time, drivers must also remain cognizant of the fact that officers are often placed in dangerous positions, and therefore risk their own lives, in order to protect the public.