Ticket trend down, crashes up

De­fense ques­tions whether drag sled was best tool to cal­cu­late speed in ac­ci­dent

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Marc Free­man Staff writer

State records show South Florid­i­ans got into more crashes in the past five years, but fewer of us are get­ting pulled over for tick­ets.

In a crash that killed a pop­u­lar col­lege soc­cer player from north Broward last year, cops say the car that hit him was go­ing at least 89 mph.

But that es­ti­mate has touched off a unique crim­i­nal court bat­tle.

The de­fense for the 26-year-old driver charged with ve­hic­u­lar houl­ti­mately mi­cide is chal­leng­ing the method used by the Palm Beach County Sher­iff’s of­fice to de­ter­mine the speed dur­ing a re­con­struc­tion of the ac­ci­dent.

It’s an ar­gu­ment some in­dus­try ex­perts say is long over­due — and it raises the ques­tions of whether cops are us­ing the best tool to cal­cu­late speed and if peo­ple are be­ing wrong­fully con­victed as a re­sult.

Also, the out­come of this case could af­fect prose­cu­tions of drivers across Florida.

That is, if an ap­pel­late court one day agrees with the de­fense here that the long es­tab­lished way of de­ter­min­ing speed af­ter a crash — an in­stru­ment called a drag sled — is sci­en­tif­i­cally un­re­li­able.

So far, no higher courts in the state have ex­am­ined this is­sue. And it ap­pears to have been re­viewed in just a few other places in the coun­try. Courts in Texas and Ver­mont have up­held con­vic­tions in deadly crashes where de­fen­dants have at­tacked drag sleds.

“Peo­ple should not be con­victed of crim­i­nal of­fenses based on spec­u­la­tive or junk science,” de­fense at­tor­ney Greg Rosenfeld wrote in the pend­ing Palm Beach County case.

At a hear­ing set for Sept. 20, he’ll ask the judge to throw out the speed es­ti­mate used to charge his client, Kevin Brown of West Palm Beach, in the Feb. 3, 2017 death of Eric Tarmey, 23, of Light­house Point.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Brown was driv­ing his 2010 Nis­san Max­ima north­bound on Mil­i­tary Trail at more than twice the posted 45 mph speed limit. They say Brown zoomed around a car in front of him, and then at 9:39 p.m., slammed into the pas­sen­ger side of Tarmey’s 2010 Volk­swa­gen GTI, killing Tarmey in­stantly.

Tarmey had been in the south­bound lanes and was mak­ing a left turn to head east in the en­trance of Keiser Univer­sity, where he stud­ied sports man­age­ment and played soc­cer. He lived off-cam­pus but was on his way to visit friends, said his fa­ther Ed Tarmey, re­tired fire mar­shal for the city of Da­nia Beach.

“The car was hit so hard that Eric’s skull was frac­tured in four or five places,” he said of the in­juries to

the youngest of his three sons.

Tarmey says he has no doubt Brown was driv­ing reck­lessly, de­spite the de­fense’s ob­jec­tion to the speed cal­cu­la­tion. He said Brown is not ac­cused of driv­ing im­paired; the man’s blood was not tested that night.

The vic­tim’s fam­ily wants Brown, if he stands trial, to be con­victed and sen­tenced to the max­i­mum pos­si­ble pun­ish­ment of 15 years in prison.

“We would like to see him get the full ex­tent the law would pro­vide,” Tarmey told the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel.

Brown’s lawyer said the case is a tragic ac­ci­dent where the speed has been wrongly ex­ag­ger­ated.

Brown, who works at a bank, told the in­ves­ti­ga­tor that he was go­ing, “truth­fully around 65, 70” and slammed on his brakes, but couldn’t avoid the car turn­ing in front of him.

A typ­i­cal way that in­ves­ti­ga­tors find out speed on im­pact is tap­ping into a car’s com­puter sys­tem, and check­ing a “black box” sim­i­lar in na­ture to those on air­planes. But the box in Brown’s Max­ima ap­par­ently was de­stroyed.

Po­lice de­part­ments across the state and the coun­try also use drag sleds, which re­sem­ble a tire cut in half with weights. It’s pulled across a road to ob­tain the amount of fric­tion ex­ist­ing be­tween a mov­ing ve­hi­cle and the ground.

Engi­neer­ing formulas are then used to come up with the speed of a car that was in a crash.

An­other method used by the Palm Beach County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, as well as agen­cies else­where, is a tool called an ac­celerom­e­ter.

This is a de­vice placed in a test car driven by an ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor to check the rate in which a car slows while skid­ding to a stop.

In­ves­ti­ga­tor Robert Stephan, who worked on the Brown case, has said he de­cided it “wasn’t safe” to use an ac­celerom­e­ter based on the sur­round­ings at the crash Eric Tarmey, of Light­house Point, died when his Volk­swa­gen GTI was hit by a Nis­san Max­ima driven by Kevin Brown, of West Palm Beach.


“I find that skid­ding a car over the shoul­der of the road­way through the dirt to­ward trees at 35 miles per hour would be un­safe,” he said in de­po­si­tion tes­ti­mony.

Stephan said he used a drag sled to de­ter­mine Brown’s speed, and was “com­fort­able say­ing that the ac­tual speed of the car was 90 miles per hour or faster.”

In her re­sponse to the de­fense at­tack on Stephan’s find­ings, As­sis­tant State At­tor­ney Laura Lau­rie wrote that he should be per­mit­ted to tes­tify be­fore a jury.

“The use of drag sleds has been an ac­cepted prac­tice within the field of crash re­con­struc­tion for a long time,” she wrote last week.

“In this case, the State will elicit tes­ti­mony both from law en­force­ment as well as a pro­fes­sional engi­neer who all main­tain that when used prop­erly, a drag sled is a re­li­able tool for ac­ci­dent re­con­struc­tion,” Lau­rie ex­plained.

But the de­fense has asked Cir­cuit Judge Ch­eryl Caracuzzo to con­sider opin­ions from drag sled op­po­nents, namely the So­ci­ety of Au­to­mo­tive En­gi­neers In­ter­na­tional, and the North­west­ern Univer­sity Cen­ter for Pub­lic Safety.

Th­ese groups fa­vor ac­celerom­e­ters or brak­ing dis­tance tests, while con­tend­ing that drag sleds have proven to be un­re­li­able.

“The re­sults of drag sleds are ba­si­cally all over the place and you ba­si­cally can’t rely on it,” said Roger Bar­rette, who teaches crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion and re­con­struc­tion cour­ses at North­west­ern and co-owns an Illi­nois con­sult­ing firm.

In the Brown case, the de­fense is bring­ing in two ac­ci­dent re­con­struc­tion ex­perts

to bash drag sleds. One of them is Aaron Moss of Mi­ami, who said he’s sur­prised the courts in Florida and else­where haven’t put a stop to the prac­tice.

“If you are us­ing an un­sci­en­tific process, it should al­ways be chal­lenged,” Moss said.

De­fense at­tor­ney Rosenfeld says: “In this case, In­ves­ti­ga­tor Stephan chose to use an out­dated, untested and un­ac­cepted method — the drag sled.”

The prose­cu­tor, how­ever, ar­gues Stephan sim­ply con­ducted a “proper math­e­mat­i­cal re­con­struc­tion to de­ter­mine a speed of the De­fen­dant’s ve­hi­cle at the time of im­pact.”

What’s more, she will call wit­nesses who said they ob­served Brown trav­el­ing at a very high speed be­fore hit­ting Tarmey’s car.

Tarmey is re­mem­bered fondly.

Car­di­nal Gib­bons High in Fort Lauderdale has es­tab­lished a $3,000 schol­ar­ship to honor the mem­ory of the stu­dent who grad­u­ated in the class of 2011.

“Eric was an en­er­getic, en­thu­si­as­tic young man with a pas­sion for soc­cer,” the school’s web­site reads. “He al­most al­ways had a smile on his face, counted al­most ev­ery­one as a friend, and main­tained a solid B av­er­age.”

Gabe Hughes, one of Tarmey’s long­time friends, said it’s still hard to be­lieve that some­one with so much en­ergy and pas­sion is gone.

“It seemed like he lived ev­ery day like it was his last,” said Hughes, 24. “He cher­ished ev­ery mo­ment.”

1 p.m, the club in­side Hol­i­day Park, 620 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. $7, mem­bers/per ses­sion;

$9, non­mem­bers/per ses­sion. 954-761-1577.

Overeaters Anony­mous, 3-4:30 p.m., Del­ray Med­i­cal Cen­ter, Pinecrest Con­fer­ence Room, 5352 Lin­ton Blvd., Del­ray Beach. Free.



Pi­lates Classe, 7- 8 p.m., Sun­view Park, 1500 SW 42nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale. 954-357-6520.

Socrates Dis­cus­sion Group, 1:30-3 p.m., the Volen Cen­ter, 1515 W. Pal­metto Park Road, Boca Ra­ton. 561-395-8920.

Chair Yoga, noon, the Main Li­brary, Sixth Floor, 100 S. An­drews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. 954-357-7443.

Men’s Is­sues Group, 6:30-8 p.m., Faulk Cen­ter for Coun­sel­ing, 22455 Boca Rio Road, Boca Ra­ton. $5. 561-483-5300.


Fi­nan­cial Free­dom Night, 7:20-8:30 p.m., Eta Nu Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, 913 NW Third St., Pom­pano Beach. Learn how to start your own busi­ness and how to take ad­van­tage of lever­aged in­come. Free. 954-304-4283.

Will Work­shop, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Eta Nu Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, 913 NW Third St., Pom­pano Beach. Lo­cal es­tate at­tor­ney shar­ing the im­por­tance of es­tate plan­ning and how to get your es­tate in or­der. Free. 954-304-4283.To re­serve your seat email

help­[email protected]

Fam­ily Night With Food Trucks, 5:30-9:30 p.m., Plan­ta­tion Her­itage Park, 1100 S. Fig Tree Lane, Plan­ta­tion. 954-357-5135. Wood­carv­ing Class, 9 a.m.- noon, the Cen­ter for Ac­tive Ag­ing,

227 N. Sec­ond St., Deer­field Beach. 954-480-4447.

LGBTQ Adults & Al­lies, 6-7 p.m., the Faulk Cen­ter, 22455 Boca Rio Road, 561-483-5300.

Covenant En­force­ment, 6:30 p.m, Kaye Ben­der Rem­baum, 1200 Park Cen­tral Blvd. South, Pom­pano Beach. Free. 954-928-0680. Boca Ra­ton Toast­mas­ters Club, 7-9 p.m., the Boca Ra­ton Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, 150 Craw­ford Blvd. Free. 561-306-2426. Cur­rent Events Fo­rum, 10:30 a.m., the Church of the Palms Con­fer­ence Cen­ter, 1960 N. Swin­ton Ave., Del­ray Beach. $2.


The Greater Fort Lauderdale Toast­mas­ters, 7-8:30 p.m., Denny’s, 3151 NW Ninth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. 954-600-1532.

Look­ing Ahead

DivorceCare at Church by the Glades, 6:45-8:45 p.m., Thurs­day, Saw­grass cam­pus, 400 Lake­view Drive, Coral Springs. 954-755-7767.


Broward Women’s Cho­rus re­hearsals will be­gin for the Christ­mas pro­gram in Septem­ber. If you would like to par­tic­i­pate, re­hearsal be­gins on Sept. 5 at 10 a.m., Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church of Fort Lauderdale, 3970 NW 21st Ave. Call 954-951-6789 or email [email protected]­choral­group.org.


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