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.