BATAVIA, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York State Police Collision Reconstruction Unit responds to about a hundred crashes per year hoping to find answers to some of the worst crashes in Western New York.
The summer months mean more crashes and collisions on roadways, especially during the 100 deadliest days of summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“It’s our job to go out there and investigate the contributing factors to the collision and determine how or why these collisions happen,” Trooper Thomas Rzepecki, an investigator with the unit, told News 4.
Technology and training give the collision reconstruction unit the tools it needs to know what exactly happened before, during and after a crash. The unit also uses witness statements to string the story together, but the physical data is critical to the reconstruction of a crash.
“We like to rely on that physical evidence,” Investigator Rzepecki said. “Based on that evidence, the tire marks on the roadway or whatever we see on scene, we can apply the Laws of Motion and come up with a cause for how those cars came together.”
The unit utilizes technology like drones, satellite imagery and real-life renderings of the scene to know exactly what was happening before during and after the crash. Investigators also analyze data from the black boxes in the car and are able to identify the cause of the crash.
As the technology in vehicles continues to advance, the unit has to stay up to date with new software, measuring instruments and other technology, which paint a clear picture of what was happening in the vehicles seconds before impact. This data can make driving safer to avoid future crashes.
“On scene, we start with digital photography and then move on to the global navigation satellite system. It’s essentially like a giant pencil drawing the scene to scale. From there, we use drone technology to map the entire collision scene,” Trooper Nicholas Overturf, an investigator with the specialized unit, said. “Doing the reconstruction, we are able to figure out the contributing factors to that accident and use that data and find trends, maybe a roadway that’s unsafe, or a speed that is a little too fast.”
They say it is critical to stay up to date with technology so this unit can stay ahead of the curve, especially as technology in vehicles gets more advanced.
The investigators also go through extensive training, including recreating live accidents to understand how speed, acceleration and other forces have a role in crashes.
“You know what information you’re looking for: the kind of damage that will be done to a vehicle, the kind of damage that will be done to someone involved in the vehicle, a pedestrian or a motorcycle for example. The kind of damage you’d expect based on the speeds we saw live,” Investigator Overturf said. “During the investigation, we also use airbag control modules which can measure the forces acting on the car, vehicle speeds, vehicle dynamics.”
The summer season means more deadly crashes, especially between the end of May and September. Trooper James O’Callaghan said this is due to many factors, including speeding, distracted driving, impaired driving, an increase in motorcyclists and new drivers hitting the road.
“What we’re seeing is a lot more collisions — speed related, distracted driving related. It’s sunny outside, people tend to drive a little bit quicker,” Trooper O’Callaghan said.
This unit is about finding answers to very complicated questions, providing closure during some of the most difficult moments.
“Every time we get a call to respond to the scene of a crash, it is a tragedy for someone,” Investigator Rzepecki added. “Because of this crash, a family member, a loved one, a close friend isn’t coming home today, and it’s our commitment to find out what happened and why it happened, and it’s our job to give a voice to those who no longer have one.”
New York State Police said deadly crashes are on the rise. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2022, Troop A responded to 10 fatal crashes in Western New York. There were 96 fatal crashes investigated by the entire New York State Police agency. In 2023, Troop A has responded to four fatal crashes, and the entire agency has investigated 66 statewide. This is an increase from years past.
State Police said drivers should stay off their phones and just because the weather is nicer, doesn’t mean drivers should go faster. They said speed is the number one factor in serious collisions, especially in the sunny, summer weather.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.