“As soon as I get to the car window, the passenger gets out and walks away and the driver PASSES OUT”

car
Stock photo by PoPville flickr user DCbmyers

“Dear PoPville,

I’m writing to let you know about a strange incident involving MPD that happened to me Monday. A little after 3:30pm I was stopped at the stop light on First St. NW waiting to turn left onto New York Ave. NW. Another car ran in to the back of my car and, after the initial shock, I got out of the car and went to check on the driver to see if he was okay. As soon as I get to the car window, the passenger gets out and walks away and the driver PASSES OUT. I asked if he was okay in a really loud voice (I was scared that he was really injured) and suggested that we move our cars from the middle of the road and he wakes back up, says he’s fine, but immediately passes out again.

At this point I call 911 thinking that we definitely need a cop and probably an ambulance as well. I was on the phone with 911 for 7 minutes and in that time the driver that hit me was passed out. I kept trying to engage him and each time he would wake up and pass out again. There were a dozen or so cars that passed us on First St. during this time, and a few checked to see if I was okay and many of them commented that the driver was seriously injured or under the influence of something…he was totally out. I was really concerned and communicated all of this to the 911 operator (who was great, by the way.)

Once the officer arrived the other driver woke up and finally got out of his car. His eyes were glazed over and he wasn’t able to communicate well…he was either seriously concussed or under the influence of something. He was not alright. The fact that he only responded when an officer arrived led me to believe that he was under the influence. The officer asked me what happened, looked at both of our cars, and asked the driver to back up so that our cars were no longer touching. While the driver was in his car, I pulled the officer aside and told him about the passenger who bailed and that the driver had been asleep for the past few minutes since the incident. In response, the officer said an ambulance would arrive to check on both of our conditions. I didn’t think he was taking me seriously so I then intimated that the other driver was under the influence, because it no longer seemed like he was seriously injured. The officer then went up to the other driver and only asked him about the passenger who had left. The driver said that it was his cousin who needed to go buy something (this seemed like a ridiculous explanation to me).

An ambulance arrived and asked if we were ok. We both said yes, so the ambulance left.

The officer then came back to me and told me that in these situations all that he can do is have us exchange information. I took all of the other driver’s info, but the other driver didn’t want any of my info. Then the officer told both of us we could go.

I know that officers have way more training than I do when it comes to recognizing when individuals are under the influence…but this whole situation seemed insane to me. I don’t believe the guy was seriously injured, so the only other logical explanation for his behavior (in my mind) was that he was seriously messed up.

Am I crazy?! I was seriously pissed. I could not believe that a cop would let this guy go. I have all of the driver’s information, but not the cop’s, unfortunately. I’ve requested that an official from MPD speak with me, but now that the adrenaline is subsiding I feel like any further action on my part is kind of pointless. I’d be curious to know what others think and if they can make any sense of this situation and the driver’s or the officer’s actions.

I also want to thank everyone who stopped to talk to me to ask if I was alright and see if any of them would mind reaching out to me so I can provide witnesses if MPD does reach out to me.”

71 Comment

  • This sounds on par to a similar situation. Uber driver crashed into parked cars on my block. He the teied to leave the seen and made it about 20 feet but his car was to badly damaged. The guys face was all bloodied and it was very clear that he was out of it. I told cops wha i witnessed. They said apparently he’s a vet and had a lot of prescriptions on him. They let him sit on curb until tow trucks came. And then about 2hrs later let him walk away on his own. Thankfully my car wasn’t one of the hit cars because i would’ve raised hell.

  • Glad you are OK. I seriously doubt MPD will ever reach out to you. Don’t expect any more in terms of basic competence and diligence than what you got at the scene. It’s quite shocking to have lived here a few years and fully realize just how absolutely useless and negligent our police are, again and again. I’m guessing you will be out your uninsured motorist deductible too, and that they failed to cite the drunk driver for that?

  • That is a crazy story and I would be very frustrated, too! I would bring it up with the district commander. Not that anything can be done to rectify the situation now, but perhaps this can be used as a training opportunity.

  • MPD does not care about traffic laws being broken. Been that way for a long time. Unless a camera catches you do something, who cares. To get locked up for DUI, you have to be drunk out of your mind and cause some damage or injury. It’s scary but it is what it is. This is why I avoid driving in the city, especially during the weekends. Between DC and reckless ratchet drivers from PG county, it’s a free for all.

    • rachet? really? Just say those bad black folk and get it out of your system bro. Cause that’s what you mean.

    • Well, be honest- When is the last time you nearly got run over by a reckless driver in DC and looked up to see that it was a gentrifier?

      • I lived in Chevy Chase, so plenty of times. I mean, the “locals” don’t have the lock on bad driving.

      • About a month ago. $hitty, selfish driving behavior knows no racial or socioeconomic boundaries.

      • This morning. And last night. And basically every day. The presumption that most of the bad drivers in this city are of “a type” is ridiculous. The only type is asshole.

      • I don’t know how you can identify a gentrifier when they’re almost running you over, but if you mean white person then just about every darn day. I generally experience more road rage from people in expensive/luxury cars than beaters in fact. Mercedes and BMW drivers scare me the most, but Range Rover is way up there. If I see a Chevy I have neutral reactions, but if I see a BMW coming at me I practically flinch.

      • Last night in Georgetown, woman making a right on red DIDN’T EVEN LOOK RIGHT, only left for other cars.

      • I don’t know what is more irritating. The fact that a good swatch of supposedly decent folks actually think the way Anon does…or he fact that they do so while insisting we love in some post-racial utopia where racism hasn’t infected every single aspect and elements of what it means to be white or black on America. If you think this way about every little thing, at least have the integrity to own up to your lack of basic human decency.

      • I’m a gentrifier and I’m black. #fail

  • justinbc

    “I know that officers have way more training than I do”
    At least you recognize this, most of the people who write in these “I can’t believe exactly what I expected to happen in this odd situation didn’t work out like I imagined!” scenarios fail to acknowledge that they aren’t trained to handle these situations, or are even aware of the regulations related to those who are with regard to what they can and cannot do.
    In this case it sounds like the officer did what he’s required to do, and without actually observing the accident he can’t fully assess the situation. If I were you I would expect to get blanked by the other guy’s insurance company though, if he even has one.

    • What part of “fully assess the situation” here did not include administering a field sobriety test when an eyewitness reported that the driver appeared intoxicated and was losing consciousness?

      Justinbc, My 100% disagreement rate with every single thing you say or position you take is a remarkable thing. Please don’t ever change. I want to see just how far-ranging this phenomenon can be!

      • justinbc

        You are aware that citizens cannot dictate who gets a field sobriety test, right? That’s what police officers are hired and trained to do.

        • So if causing a crash and then passing out doesn’t prompt a police officer to administer such a test, what do you think might?

          • justinbc

            The police officer 1) did not witness the crash, so they cannot determine who caused it, 2) did not witness the person passed out, they only have the word of the OP to go on, so neither of those things which you stated.

          • How about this?
            “His eyes were glazed over and he wasn’t able to communicate well”

          • I am actually going to come to justin’s defense on this one; to be perfectly honest, in situations such as these, we only have the word of the OP to go off of, and only hear his/her perspective. The fact is, after an incident such as this, memories really aren’t that reliable. The person was checked out by the ambulance, and either declined to go to the hospital AMA (which OP really wouldn’t/shouldn’t know – they would have been triaged separately for privacy reasons) or were found to be ok. The responding police could have had no reasonable concern for DUI. One person’s “eyes glazed over” is another person’s “allergy eyes” or “old people eyes,”and the ability to communicate” is pretty subjective. Not saying that the person in question couldn’t have been injured or messed up, or both, but there are other circumstances and scenarios that could be at play. Justin is right – the police did not witness any of this themselves, and they can only go off of what they see.

          • I agree the officer should be given the benefit of the doubt here. One person’s “passed out” is, in all likelihood, another person’s “f**k, I can’t believe I just rear-ended this annoying lady, let me close my eyes and pretend I can’t hear her until the cops get here and I can go.” And the relative leaving the scene is probably somebody who just doesn’t want to deal with things or actually has reason to avoid the police.

  • Yeah, without witnessing the accident, that’s about as much as an officer can do. A passenger leaving the scene and being a little discombobulated/flighty after an accident aren’t really enough to be detained. Was he stumbling? Did he smell like alcohol or drugs? When assessing people, officers make decisions based on a lot of things, not just one or two; seems like he was pretty compliant once the officer got there. The officer certainly can’t take action based on your account of what happened before he got there.

    • An officer can absolutely take action based on a witness’s account of what happened. If OP had said “he threatened me with a gun” the police officer would have searched the guy for a gun. If OP had said “I saw a body in that guys trunk” the officer absolutely would have been obligated to take the steps required to obtain a search warrant. The fact is that the officer did a poor job and didn’t consider driving under the influence serious enough an issue to follow up on.

  • Honestly, it sounds like the driver was concussed. Some of the signs of a brain injury include: Slurring words, disorientation and oh, passing out. I really hope the poor guy is ok.

    • There is no reason to suspect that this guy had a concussion – and the EMT’s would know to check for this. This was a low speed collision. Was he belted? Did his airbag deploy? His behavior is not consistent with a concussion – and for the record I am a doctoral level clinical professional with experience with head injuries. More likely he was intoxicated. The fact that the cop did nothing is disgraceful.

      • If you are a doctoral level physician with clinal training in head injuries then you’d probaly know that that even “minor” bumps on the head can cause catotophic injury. What if this person was having a medical emergency? Diabetes? Why do people have to jump to the absolute worst conclusion?

      • HaileUnlikely

        So we have the opinion of a highly-credentialed professional weighing in on something he didn’t even see but heard about from somebody who I’ll take on faith made an honest effort to describe what he saw, but presumably was not a similarly credentialed professional and might have omitted important details that he didn’t realize were important, and we’re weighing this against that guy’s description about what some people who have some training and were on the scene did and didn’t do. Gee, I don’t feel like this really added anything. Thanks, though.

    • Or he was just high, or drunk. Same symptoms.

  • The officer can’t assess the driver who caused an accident for impairment? Make him walk a line, touch his nose, take a breathalyzer? I believe that police do not require probable cause to administer sobriety tests. But doesn’t rear-ending someone and then passing out constitute reasonable suspicion?
    I don’t understand WHY some posters think a police officer is somehow unable to assess the sobriety of a person who caused a crash.

    • justinbc

      Police officers don’t make determinations of who “causes” a crash without witnessing it. That’s for insurance companies to argue about.

      • The following car is always at least partially at fault in rear end collision.

        • justinbc

          You only know the following car ran into the front car because that’s what the person writing in is telling you (not that I’m questioning that assertion). Someone who did not witness the accident doesn’t know whether that happened, or the car in front accidentally or purposely backed up / reversed into the rear car. Police officers are not trained to identify fault in an accident, again, that’s what insurance people and claims adjusters handle when the cars go off to body shops for inspections. I’ve been in accidents where the other person was clearly at fault (for instance, my car literally in park at a gas pump) and asked police officers this point blank, and on each occasion they have stated they do not make determinations of fault. I’m not just pulling this out of my ass here, I’m telling you what happens when the person you’re expecting to adjudicate something isn’t there to witness it happen.

          • It’s called following at an unsafe distance. You can learn about it in your DC Driver’s manual.

            And from the DC DMV website:
            “Here are a few examples of offenses that will lead to points on your Washington, D.C. driving record:
            Following too closely behind another vehicle.”

          • justinbc

            You are completely missing the point. We KNOW that’s what happened because someone is telling us. If all you see is two cars end to end, with no context, car A can say that car B ran into their back, and car B can say that car A reversed into their front bumper. At some point someone will make the determination of who’s at fault, and assuming both drivers have insurance those companies will hash it out, but it’s NOT the police officer’s job to make that determination based solely on the evidence presented in the story above.

          • For the record, Justin, I think you’re being quite clear and rational. I’m with you on this one.

      • It was a rear end collision. Unless you’re on a highway or other place you’re generally not supposed to apply your breaks willy-nilly, who caused it is self-evident.

        • And you’re wrong about police officers not making determinations about causation without witnessing a crash. They can and have issued tickets in such circumstances for following too closely, speeding (failure to follow the basic speed law), failure to pay attention, reckless driving, etc.

          • justinbc

            Please explain to me how on earth an officer could write someone a ticket for “failure to pay attention” without witnessing what that person did, barring a confessional of “sorry sir I just wasn’t paying attention”. This sounds like something a cop would write you when you’re really speeding and he’s just trying to be nice and not fully slam you.

          • Happens all the time, counselor. “I’m sorry officer. I was just changing the radio station, and next thing you know….”
            .
            Wait, you’re not an attorney? Then stick to things you actually have experience with.

          • I’m looking right now at a scanned copy of a police collision report, which has blank check boxes for the officer to denote the at fault driver.

            When’s the last time Justin was right about something?

          • justinbc

            @Anon, thanks for proving my point, whether you realized it or not. Your example is someone providing a confession to the officer. If I walk into the police station and state that I murdered someone, they’re going to assume that I’m at fault. If you tell someone you’re a bad driver, yes, they might write you a ticket for it. But, as I said, how could he do that WITHOUT a confession from the driver?

          • justinbc

            Paul, the Accident Report for DC is called PD-10, and it has no check box for “at fault driver”, so I’m not sure which report you’re looking at.

          • justinbc

            Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, your ad hominem attacks against me are pointless to the argument, so please stick to what’s actually relevant if you want to have an intelligent conversation.

          • Good God, man. You really like to focus on one irrelevant thing and drill down so far you miss the point, don’t you? Anyway, you said, “Police officers don’t make determinations of who ’causes’ a crash without witnessing it.” That’s a blanket statement that is demonstrably false. Law might be yet another thing you think you’re an expert on, but it’s not. You in turn cite ONE way a person could be cited, which proves nothing other than you have no ability to admit when you’re wrong.
            .
            And your comparison of someone stating at the scene of an accident that they were changing the radio station to another walking into a police station admitting to a murder is just asinine. Believe it or not, the former happens all the time. At accident scenes many people talk just to talk — they’re nervous and the adrenaline’s flowing — and most people know when they rear end someone that they’ve screwed up. When that happens their insurance company generally takes care of it. The latter, on the other hand, happens most often in movies. And when it does happen they get 20 to life. So I hope you can see the difference and why one would be way more common than the other.
            .
            Now, to answer your question. If you hit someone from behind — barring special circumstances — it is presumed that you’re at fault and the police do have discretion to cite you. Why? Because of several things. First is the basic speed law, which states that you’re supposed to drive at a speed that allows you to avoid colliding with objects in front of you, regardless of the posted speed limit. Second is the law that states that you should leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you don’t collide with it. Third is the patchwork of laws that state that you should drive with the attention necessary to do so safely (including the cellphone rules). If you collide with a car that is stopped front of you, a police officer is permitted to presume that you broke one of those laws. Usually that’s corroborated by statements from witnesses, often the occupants of the other vehicle.

          • How do you know that Justinbc isn’t an attorney? Frankly I would be surprised if he was anything but. And further when did the requirement for commenting on Popville turn into “only if it’s your profession”. For someone trying to sound so condescending you’re completely glossing over the fact that the driver the OP claims is at fault simply has to state “she backed into me”, and the driver can’t do anything to prove that’s false. You would be amazed how often this happens with elderly drivers.

          • Oh, and whether there’s a check box on the DC form is irrelevant. That’s for ease of statistics collection and is often used by litigants in small claims court. On the other hand, there’s a General Order to MPD officers that states that after arrival to a traffic accident scene, if a PD-10 is required the officer shall “take appropriate enforcement action when there is sufficient evidence of one or more traffic law violations.” The arrival part of that order assumes that the officer didn’t see the collision.

        • justinbc

          You would like to think so, wouldn’t you? I take it you’ve never spoken to insurance claims people on the phone before.

          • More often that you have, I can promise you. Both as an attorney and as an insurance customer. I know of what I speak and you clearly don’t. If your own insurance company is giving you a hard time when you’re the victim of a rear end collision (and you didn’t slam your breaks on the highway) then they suspect 1) you’re a pushover who can just be dismissed, or 2) that the collision was staged for insurance fraud purposed (had that happen to a client once).

          • And yes, I know how to correctly brakes (before your usual pedantry kicks in). Auto correct’s a pain in the ass some times.

      • Officers are able to issue tickets without witnessing an accident, so I’m not sure how that is true.

      • Simply not true. Police officers routinely determine fault in collisions they did not directly witness at least in the 4 US jurisdictions in which I have lived and owned a vehicle. Determination of fault can range from issuance of a minor citation to full-on trial testimony.

        And a rear-end collision such as this one is rarely debatable.

        Keep going, Justin!

        • HaileUnlikely

          I hate to say it, but Justin actually has a point here. Without witnesses, “I was just sitting here and he backed into me!” is all it would take.

          • Not really. The police are allowed to assess credibility of various witnesses (including the vehicle operators) and that excuse doesn’t usually pass the smell test. These accidents are almost always at intersections — stop signs, red lights, yield signs, etc. — and it’s hard to argue with a straight face that the person at the front of the collision somehow reversed with enough speed to cause damage yet still remain that close to the intersection.
            .
            I’ve seen that excuse used with insurance companies, but I’ve never seen it work. In every case the insurance company covered the “victim” at the front of the collision as if they weren’t at fault. Whether they went after the other guy depended on a few factors, but that’s another story.

          • justinbc

            “doesn’t usually”
            The very fact that you introduce the possibility of it happening should lead you to understand why it’s not their job to take sides when they don’t witness it. There are plenty of cases of police officers in DC not doing their duty, you’re on the wrong bandwagon in this case.

          • Hold on a sec. You first said “Police officers don’t make determinations of who ’causes’ a crash without witnessing it.” That’s a direct quote. Now you’re saying that “it’s not their job,” as if you’re advocating a policy position. Which is it? If it’s the former, you’re just wrong — as has been pointed out over and over. If the latter, then admit you misspoke and that these are just your opinions. If that’s the case I understand but disagree. The police have to make all kinds of on-the-spot determinations about credibility, otherwise all parties (or none) to every fight would have to be arrested, instead of the one who witnesses say is the aggressor. That would really suck to get attacked and then arrested, even though everyone around you says it’s not your fault.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Anon – here is the actual protocol, per MPD General Order 401.03 (look it up if you want). If a crash results in a person being killed, a person being injured (as assessed imperfectly by the officer), or if a vehicle is damaged so severely that the vehicle cannot be driven and needs to be towed from the scene, the police are required to complete form PD-10. It does not include a space for the officer to indicate their assessment of fault, but don’t worry about that, that is irrelevant at present for the following reason. If a crash does not result in a fatality, an injury, or a vehicle being damaged to the extent that it has to be towed away, the actual protocol is that the officer makes sure the parties exchange contact and insurance info and gives each of the drivers a form PD-10-C (which is different from the PD-10) for the drivers themselves, not the officer, completes, and then the officer moves on with his day.

          • Haile, I’ve seen the order before, but that’s neither here nor there. Besides, the order states that officers aren’t required to fill out the form in most cases of minor damage, but it doesn’t prohibit them, and it has been known to happen on the odd occasion. Further, the order states that certain instances require a report, regardless of how small the damages are. Reckless driving, for example. The basic truth is that if the officer comes upon a scene and, after looking around and talking to the witnesses, feels that the circumstances and the preponderance of evidence weighs in favor of issuing a citation, he or she is free to do so.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Yes, the officer is free to do so (as opposed to prohibited from doing so). Nonetheless, the officer is not required to do so, and usually doesn’t.

        • Not here, but in Boston, and a different set of facts, but when my car was totaled by a driver who ran through a stop sign, that driver was issued a ticket (by the policeman who did not witness the accident) and it made my insurance claim go through much more quickly. Based on the fact that there was a stop sign on the street he was driving on and not on the street I was driving on was enough for the policeman to make that call.
          In an example here, I was stopped at a red light and the car behind the car behind me didn’t stop, hitting the second car, who was pushed into me. I don’t know what the police report said, but my insurance company (same company as the middle car) called me before I got a chance to call them, and the other insurance company covered the entire repair.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Most big city police departments have entirely different procedures that they follow when investigating crashes that result in injuries or damage so severe that a car is “totaled” versus in crashes in which nobody is injured and damage is relatively minor. In some jurisdictions, the police will only complete a report if property damage exceeds a certain dollar value (as estimated by the officer, not that they are particularly good at estimating the dollar value of damage, but that is another matter for another day). In other jurisdictions, they police will only complete a report if a person is injured or killed, irrespective of the extent of damage to property. In DC, the protocol is that if a person is killed or injured or if a vehicle has to be towed, the police complete a report. If nobody is killed or injured and all involved vehicles are still driveable, the protocol is that they facilitate exchange of insurance information, give the drivers a blank PD-10-C (basically a different, less detailed version of the police report form, which is to be completed by the driver not the officer, and is basically just to help the driver document what happened for insurance purposes), and move on with their day.
            .
            If an officer witnesses a minor crash with their own eyes, and witnessed violations of the law that led to the crash, they can charge the driver for those just as they could have charged the driver for those same violations had the crash not occurred, and is basically unrelated to the question of what is standard procedure for investigating a minor accident that resulted in no injuries and relatively minimal property damage.

          • Haile, I agree that the police don’t often get involved in minor accidents in DC, but I started my career in a small firm in MA and it seemed like it was a policy in that state (even in Boston): cause even a minor accident by running something (red light, stop sign) or by rear ending someone, and you’re getting a ticket if the police show up. I always suspected it was because of the high rate of insurance fraud there. It was practically the official state sport when I lived there. Getting a ticket would make the case a near slam-dunk when it came to raising your rates, which were state-set — you’re entitled to a hearing and everything. So my theory was that cops were told to ticket everything they could so the insurance companies could get some of their money back. In addition, maybe the ticket would act as a small deterrent.

      • It’s true that they don’t assess who causes a crash, but it IS their job to arrest drivers who drive under the influence. If somebody reports a drunk driver then an officer should absolutely administer a sobriety test. Especially considering the passenger of the car left (with the drugs) as soon as the accident happened.

  • Holy cow, I definitely expect the police to administer field sobriety test. Sounds like this guy could have just dozed off and killed someone. Seems absolutely reckless that the cop didn’t stop and detain for a drug test.

  • Appears that the cop wanted to stay as neutral as possible given no loss of limb, life, broken bones, inoperable vehicle etc lending the two parties to work it out with their insurance agencies. My guess is that doing anything other than that and acting on behalf of want parties request would result in a paperwork process that either he didnt want to get involved with, couldnt actually contribute a first hand account of, or wouldnt hold up in court so he opted for the “you guys work it out option”.

    Not saying what’s right or wrong but just what appeared to happen.

  • WOW, so many comments! To answer a few questions…I was totally stopped at the red light and had been so for at least 10 seconds. When the other driver hit me I stayed in my car for a few seconds and waited for him to get out of the car. When he didn’t, I got out of my vehicle and approached him. He was already passed out and his passenger got out as soon as I made it to the car. I think one of the commenters called me annoying…but I asked him my initial question of “are you okay? Can we move our vehicles?” and he was just totally non responsive. I only asked him if he was okay/if I could do anything from therein out. I don’t think he was annoyed by me…I really just think he was messed up. The more I think about it, I really don’t believe he had a serious head injury…the accident was a minor fender bender and no airbags deployed. The only visible damage was to his license plate (I’m having my car looked at just to be sure.) Thank you to everyone who’s reached out and I’ll keep you updated on my conversation with MPD!

  • When I in a car versus motorcycle accident in DC (car merged into my lane), DC police didn’t arrive on the scene until at least half an hour later. Nevertheless they issued the other driver a ticket based, presumably, on my statement, the statement of a witness, the statement of the offending driver (who claimed I kamikaziied into him), and a photograph showing the position of our vehicles. The insurance company made its own fault determination, but it didn’t take them long. So police most certainly can and do issue tickets even if they weren’t there, or anywhere near there, at the time, and in spite of completely conflicting statements.

  • If the driver is repeatedly passing out, something is seriously wrong and the officer needs to do something to get him out from behind the wheel of his car. He needs to do so even if the guy is smart enough to take justinbc’s advice and claim the other guy backed up into him. Impaired drivers need to be taken off of the road.

    Oh, and I’ve seen any number of cases where the officer ticketed someone as being at fault in an accident even though the officer did not witness the accident, though I confess they were all before I moved to DC.

  • My 2 cents: I live right around this area and collisions seem to happen all too frequently between the 395 entrance/exit and Rt 50. Drivers need to slow down and pay attention to the lights.

  • bless your heart. dude was totally smacked out … I have to ask you, though… was there any damage to your car? if not, it AMAZES me that you stuck around that long and yes it’s unbelievable that the cop let the smacked out guy go…

    Oh, DC. Stay classy..

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