Could Tiger Woods have been asleep at the wheel before crash? Forensic experts weigh in.
The evidence available from the recent Tiger Woods car accident suggests the famous golfer ignored the road and drifted off of it before crashing his car, three forensic car accident experts told USA TODAY Sports.
The same experts also say the evidence does not suggest he lost control of his vehicle because he drove too fast on a winding downhill road known for the acceleration of cars.
They came up with this theory based on several factors, most notably the way Woods' vehicle appeared to keep going straight instead of staying on the road as it turned right.
Woods, 45, was driving north near Los Angeles when his sports utility vehicle left its lane, drove south across the median, then pulled off the road, hit a tree, rolled over and suffered major head-on damage. According to experts, Woods also broke several bones in his right lower leg, indicating that he was pulling the brakes at the time of the impact. They also said the evidence suggests Woods put the brakes on late in the collision sequence.
The vehicle at the bottom right, which is being driven by the golfer Tiger Woods, is on its side after the accident on Tuesday.
"To me, this is like a classic case of falling asleep behind the wheel because the corners of the road and his vehicle are going straight," said Jonathan Cherney, a judicial advisor who conducts car crash analysis. Cherney, a former police officer, has been personally investigating the Woods crash site since the accident on Tuesday.
"It's like drifting off the road, almost like he's either passed out, had a medical episode, or fell asleep and didn't wake up until he got off the road, and that's where the brake application came in," Cherney said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said there were no skid marks on the road to indicate braking. Woods' vehicle had anti-lock brakes. Even if he put the brakes on before hitting the curb, "you wouldn't necessarily see tire marks," said Felix Lee, an expert in accident reconstruction who is part of the Expert Institute, a network that provides expert witnesses to litigation.
Lee said an important clue was that the vehicle hadn't changed direction on the turn and instead drove straight into the median.
"I have a feeling that speed wasn't such a big problem," said Lee. "It was just some kind of inattention that caused the curb hit."
After leaving his lane and hitting the median, Wood's vehicle drove about 400 feet before stopping. Cherney said he saw no evidence of "any steering input" that would suggest Woods was trying to avoid the emergency.
This indicates a "very delayed response" from Woods to the situation, said Rami Hashish, director of the National Biomechanics Institute, who is analyzing the cause of the accident. "It indicated that he was not paying attention at all."
Hashish said he suspected the damage to the vehicle and Woods would have been much greater if he had been driving at an excessive speed. The speed limit on this road is 45 miles per hour.
"You can walk 45 to 50 miles an hour with a broken leg," said Hashish. "When you hit 60, 65 and a stationary object, your chance of death increases exponentially."
If he were going 80 mph, "he wouldn't have an open fracture in that leg," said Hashish. "He would be dead."
Villanueva, the L.A. county sheriff, said he was unaware of the vehicle's speed, but said it could have been both a factor and inattention. The accident was so serious that he ended Wood's golf career. He had to be removed from the vehicle and taken to the hospital for surgery.
"This stretch of road is challenging and if you are not careful you can see what happens," said Villanueva on Wednesday.
Villanueva said at the time that the crash was "a pure accident" and that there was no evidence of impairment or medication. He also said Woods was "clear" when a sheriff's deputy arrived on Tuesday. But that doesn't mean that he may not have been vigilant as he left his trail and continued until he crashed.
The experts found it puzzling that Villanueva had already discovered an accident without examining the vehicle's “black box” computer, which could reveal its steering, braking or acceleration actions before the impact. Villanueva said Wednesday that information has not yet been accessed.
Regarding a test of Woods' blood to see if he was receiving medical treatment, Villanueva said Wednesday the hospital may have that information.
"We're assuming that as the treatment progresses, they'll have to draw blood and obviously have to do it because he'll have to have surgery and so on," he said. "However, a search warrant from our side is required in order to be able to go into these details."
USA TODAY Sports contacted the sheriff's department on Saturday to ask if Wood's black box or blood was examined. The sheriff's department responded with an explanation:
"The investigation into the traffic accidents is ongoing and traffic investigators have not drawn any conclusions about the cause of the collision."
Woods announced in January that he had recently undergone the last of several surgeries on his back. In 2017 the police found him sleeping at the wheel in Florida. A toxicology report stated that he had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien and THC in his system when he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Ambien is used to treat insomnia and was previously used by Woods.
"There's no real accident unless it's a real medical emergency," Cherney said. "There's always a certain amount of negligence, whether it's simple negligence like looking down at your phone or changing the radio station that starts the entire collision sequence. ... When the sheriff says this is just an accident, I don't know how on earth you can say that so early in the game without doing a thorough thorough investigation and reconstruction analysis. "
Villanueva's statement that this was an accident was a "preliminary" assessment, Sheriff's Deputy Graciela Medrano said on Saturday.
Cherney noted that the weight of this SUV, a Genesis SV80, could be around 6,000 pounds, much more than a standard passenger car of around 3,500 pounds. Such a heavy weight could help explain the damage done in the crash rather than causing it from excessive pacing, he said. He asks whether the vehicle has actually rolled over "several times," as the sheriff had previously indicated.
"I think a flip is a full turn, not just the side," said Cherney. "I don't think the vehicle has made as many revolutions or complete rolls as it depicts."
He also noted that the median is having tire marks, but "You don't see any more tire marks until it actually pulls off the road," Cherney said. “And when he pulls off the road, both the left and right tires hit him, and you can see he just went over the curb. To me that also means he didn't brake, and he went ahead and continued from the side of the road until he hit the brush. Probably at some point when he hit the curb, he regained consciousness and decided to put the brakes on. "
Wood's Twitter account said Friday that he was recovering from the surgery and was "in good spirits".
"We will not have any further updates at this point," said the statement on his Twitter account. "Thank you for your continued privacy."
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Tiger Woods Update: Could He Have Slept At The Wheel During The Crash?
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