‘I’ve seen things I don’t want to see’

Meet the New­found­land RCMP of­fi­cer whose job it is to wit­ness — and in­ves­ti­gate — ve­hi­cle col­li­sions

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - News - BY JONATHAN PAR­SONS Jonathan.par­[email protected]­acket.ca Twit­ter: @je­j­par­sons

RCMP Sgt. Oliver Whif­fen of Clarenville knows ex­actly what hap­pens when ve­hi­cles are in­volved in life-al­ter­ing or lifeend­ing col­li­sions. Some days, he wishes he didn’t. “I’ve seen things I don’t want to see … It would be nice for the pub­lic to know what the re­sults are, but I re­ally don’t think they should see what we see," Whif­fen says. “I don’t think they should be ex­posed to what we’re ex­posed to. I’ve seen mu­ti­lated bod­ies, de­cap­i­tated bod­ies, chil­dren, peo­ple burned af­ter a crash. I’ve had to go out and pick up pieces of bod­ies and put them in a bag. Peo­ple shouldn’t have to see that. That’s all a re­sult of high­way col­li­sions. It’s not pretty.” Over his 17 years as a po­lice of­fi­cer — 12 as a col­li­sion re­con­struc­tion pro­gram man­ager with traf­fic ser­vices — Whif­fen has re­sponded at a mo­ment’s no­tice to ac­ci­dents all over New­found­land and Labrador. His job is to in­ves­ti­gate crash scene and ve­hi­cles, us­ing sur­vey­ing in­stru­ments, pho­tos and even drones to help de­ter­mine the cause. Tak­ing ve­hi­cles at their fi­nal rest­ing po­si­tion, he in­ves­ti­gates and sub­mits the re­sults to the lo­cal RCMP de­tach­ment. “Ev­ery crash we con­sider a crime scene un­til we de­ter­mine it’s not,” said Whif­fen. Po­lice can also ac­cess data like when the brakes were de­ployed and how fast the ve­hi­cles were go­ing in the sec­onds be­fore the col­li­sion. The puz­zle of de­ter­min­ing the cause of an ac­ci­dent on the roads can of­ten boil down to a litany of fac­tors. Whif­fen says while the speed of the ve­hi­cle is not al­ways the ma­jor cause of a col­li­sion, it is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor which di­rectly af­fects all other as­pects of driv­ing. “The thing with speed is, the faster you go, the shorter time you have to re­act to a prob­lem and the longer it’s go­ing to take your ve­hi­cle to stop.” For ex­am­ple, when trav­el­ling at the posted speed limit of 100 kilo­me­tres per hour, driv­ers are mov­ing at about 27-me­tres per sec­ond. “The faster you go, the more that dis­tance in­creases. Say it takes you two sec­onds to re­act. From the time you see a prob­lem un­til your brain tells your foot to go to the brake … you’ve trav­elled 54 me­tres.” And that's un­der prime con­di­tions. Speed is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to a po­ten­tial ac­ci­dent that ex­po­nen­tially in­creases when el­e­ments like weather, road con­di­tions, dis­tracted driv­ing, moose on the high­ways and even tire wear, are taken into ac­count. “We rarely see a crash where speed is the only fac­tor (but) it can be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor,” he says. The aw­ful re­sults of high­way ac­ci­dents shouldn’t have to be ex­pe­ri­enced by any­one, so that's why Whif­fen wants to see peo­ple drive de­fen­sively and be more re­spon­si­ble with their driv­ing. “You need to get in that ve­hi­cle and fo­cus on what you’re do­ing … Treat driv­ing as a chore. “You can’t just go from point A to point B and zone out. It doesn’t work that way.”


Sgt. Oliver Whif­fen, col­li­sion re­con­struc­tion pro­gram man­ager for Traf­fic Ser­vices of N.L. RCMP.

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