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Car accident settlement still leaves many unresolved questions

A fatal car accident that happened more than two years ago is still causing controversy around Los Angeles, California, where it occurred. A police cruiser traveling on Venice Boulevard slammed into a sedan that had pulled onto the street, hitting it on the driver's side. The 25-year-old woman who was inside the vehicle sustained critical injuries to her head and chest, and died two days later.

That much is known. The details, specifically the speed of the police car, remain in dispute. The discrepancy comes from varying witness accounts and forensic tests conducted on the vehicle. Both the officers in the car estimated that it was traveling between 40 and 45 mph. Witnesses who were driving behind the police car said at the time they believed it was traveling at least 60 and as fast as 80 mph before the crash.

Two different methods of determining the vehicle's speed were conducted. The first, done by the LAPD's Specialized Collision Investigation Detail, is what's called a momentum analysis. They based their conclusions on the skid marks from the tires, the weight of the vehicles and where they came to rest after the accident. The officials estimated the vehicle was going 49 mph at the time the officer hit the brakes.

The other test was done by an outside investigator, who was called in because data from the police car's powertrain control module--a device that records a car's speed and braking activity in the moments before its airbags are deployed--was difficult to extract. The expert's findings showed the police car topped out at a speed of 78 mph right before the crash.

The city and the family of the victim ultimately settled for $5 million last April. However, the discrepancy between the two post-crash analyses will continue to be talked about for years to come.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "In fatal LAPD crash, blame proves elusive," Joel Rubin, Jan. 17, 2012

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