Albuquerque Journal

Sheriff: Tiger’s auto crash was ‘purely an accident’

Blood test, however, could dispute initial conclusion


LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County sheriff on Wednesday characteri­zed the crash that seriously injured Tiger Woods as “purely an accident” and appeared to rule out any potential criminal charges even as authoritie­s were still investigat­ing.

Deputies saw no evidence the golf star was impaired by drugs or alcohol after Tuesday’s rollover wreck on a downhill stretch of road known for crashes, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

“He was not drunk,” Villanueva said during a livestream­ed social media event. “We can throw that one out.”

Woods, who had checked into a clinic in 2017 for help dealing with prescripti­on medication, was driving alone through coastal Los Angeles suburbs when his SUV struck a raised median, crossed into oncoming lanes and flipped several times. The crash caused “significan­t” injuries to his right leg that required surgery, according to a post on the golfer’s Twitter account.

Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, who was first to arrive at the crash, patrols the road and said he sometimes catches people topping 80 mph in the downhill, 45-mph zone and that wrecks are common.

Justin King, a personal injury attorney in California, said that if investigat­ors prove the road is unsafe and contribute­d to Woods’ crash and others, the municipali­ty that controls it could be held liable. The wreck happened on the border between the communitie­s of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, and the county supervisor who represents the area has requested a safety review.

Meanwhile, Villanueva said investigat­ors may seek search warrants for a blood sample to definitive­ly rule out drugs and alcohol. Detectives also could apply for search warrants for Woods’ cellphone to see if he was driving distracted, as well as the vehicle’s event data recorder, or “black box,” which would give informatio­n about how fast he was going.

Joe Giacalone, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired New York police sergeant, said it was “premature” for Villanueva to determine the crash was an accident just a day later.

“The blood test could give us a whole other insight,” Giacalone said, noting that some drugs are not necessaril­y detectable by observatio­n. “Because it’s Tiger Woods, people are going to demand answers. You have to dot your I’s and cross your T’s.”

Crash investigat­ions typically include interviews of first responders and bystanders as well as inspection­s of the road and the vehicle, including photograph­ing and measuring the scene and checking to see if the vehicle had defects or malfunctio­ns, according to William Peppard, a retired Bergen County, New Jersey, police detective who has served as a crash investigat­or.

Peppard said in typical cases with no immediate indication­s the driver was impaired, detectives might not seek blood samples if the crash did not injure anyone else or damage property.

“Take the celebrity out of it — it’s a matter of resources and time,” he said.

In 2017, Woods was arrested on a DUI charge when Florida police found him asleep behind the wheel of his car parked awkwardly on the side of the road, with its engine still running, two flat tires and a blinker flashing.

Woods said he had an unexpected reaction to pain medication.

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