Nelsonville Police Officer Scott Dawley was not wearing a seat belt when he was involved in the August crash that took his life, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The report on the three-vehicle crash, obtained from the highway patrol, also finds Dawley at fault for the crash, stating that Dawley “failed to cautiously enter the intersection” at Canal and Myers streets."
Officers failing to buckle up had been an ongoing issue, said Chief Scott Fitch.
"We have a policy that all officers are required to wear their seat belts, but for whatever reason" they often didn't, Fitch said. The department has since conducted training on the importance of wearing seat belts, he said.
Protocol for entering intersections when responding to a call is to "enter as carefully as possible," Fitch said — even if that means stopping at a red light to ensure that the way is clear.
"Intersections are one of the most dangerous places, and drivers are more and more distracted," Fitch said.
Dawley was driving a 2018 Ford Explorer belonging to the department, responding to a report of shots fired on the city’s east side Aug. 3 when, according to the report, he ran a red traffic light at the intersection. The vehicle struck a 2009 Ford F-650 delivery truck, which then struck a 2008 Jeep Liberty that was waiting to turn left into Myers Street (behind the Rocky outlet).
The Explorer continued diagonally across the intersection, where it appears to have struck a large electronic sign supported by stone pillars.
The Ford F-650 belonged to Lewellen Services of Logan and was driven by David Rardain of South Bloomingville. Rardain told investigators that he had just delivered water to the Rocky outlet store and was on his way to his next delivery, at Attractions on the Public Square, when his truck was struck from the left. He said he did not see lights or hear a siren.
OSHP investigators reviewed security camera footage from Rocky Boots, which showed that Dawley had turned on the unit’s emergency lights. Multiple witnesses to the accident said that Dawley's siren was on, Fitch said.
All three vehicles in the accident were rendered undrivable, with the police unit and the delivery truck sustaining the worst damage. The Explorer's hood, front bumper and push bar were “smashed and bent” and the engine compartment was damaged. Although the Explorer’s air bags fired, there was “a great deal of contact damage” to the steering wheel, instrument panel and other devices. “The seat belt was not in use at the time of the crash,” the report states.
The impact of the crash broke the delivery truck's front fenders, hood, and driver-side roll-up cargo doors off their mounts and damaged the engine compartment and suspension, the report states. Rardain was medevacked to Grant Medical Center in Columbus, where he was still hospitalized when OSHP contacted him for his statement on Aug. 12.
Neither the driver nor the passenger of the Jeep — John, 80, and Ginny Carter 79, both of Nelsonville — were injured.
The report does not estimate how fast Dawley’s cruiser was going when it entered the intersection. Requests for the information were not filled by press time.
The posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour.
Dawley's death has "definitely brought everything to the forefront" about safety behind the wheel, Fitch said.
"This was a tragic event — an eye-opener for everybody," he said.
Fitch said he has emphasized to officers that it's more important to arrive at a potential crime scene safely than to arrive at lightning speed.
"The reality is, we have a high percentage of calls that are called in as extremely serious in nature, then we get there and it's not that serious," he said. "You have to ask yourself, 'Is it worth hurting myself or others?'" by sacrificing safety for speed. "The answer is always, 'No.'"