A Wednesday morning rear-end traffic crash that injured a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper is an example of the dangerous situations law enforcement face on the area’s busy roads, according to a crash investigator in Johnson City.
“When we’re out there, we’re surrounded by traffic and we’re in a vulnerable position because we can’t always get our vehicle off the road,” said Johnson City Police Lt. Larry Williams, who heads the police department’s traffic crash team.
And while Williams didn’t know all the details involving the crash that injured THP Sgt. Diane Mays, he said being hit from behind is always a possibility for officers parked at a crash site.
The accident involving Mays happened around 10 a.m. on U.S. Highway 11E in Washington County near the Greene County line while she was investigating another wreck, according to Dayla Qualls, public information officer for the Department of Safety.
Mays’ cruiser, a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria, was parked off the left side of the northbound lane. She had responded to a non-injury single vehicle wreck in which the driver ran off the road into the median.
Mays was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car with the blue emergency lights activated when a 2009 Nissan Versa, traveling north and driven by Kesha Miller, 23, of Chuckey, hit the trooper’s car in the right rear corner.
The impact spun Mays’ car around and into the median and it hit the car involved in the wreck she was investigating.
Miller’s car went to the right and stopped in the grass off the shoulder, Qualls said. No information was released about any surrounding traffic that could have prevented Miller from moving over into lane away from Mays’ cruiser.
Both Mays and Miller were wearing their seat belts, and both were transported to a local hospital where they were treated for minor injuries and released, according to Qualls.
An officer’s safety is the reason state lawmakers enacted the Move Over Law several years ago. It requires motorists, when traveling on a multi-lane road, to move into the farthest lane from an emergency vehicle parked at a crash scene. If the lane isn’t available, or the road is just a two-lane, motorists are supposed to slow down until they are clear of the scene.
Williams said officers are trained to angle their vehicles behind a vehicle they have pulled over or that is involved in a crash. He said that position helps prevent a full impact rear-end collision and more serious injuries.
“It gives us some protection,” he said.
Williams was not surprised to learn Mays was wearing her seat belt. He does the same thing when stopped behind a vehicle.
“If I’m out in the roadway and exposed any, and I’m going to be in the car for any length of time, I’ll put my seat belt back on,” he said. “We’re certainly at risk out there, and I think more police officers are killed in motor vehicle accidents than all other reasons combined.”
THP Lt. Derrick Watson is investigating the crash involving Mays. No charges have been filed.