Report: Numerous factors impaired Lexington firefighter's vision in fatal accident

jkegley@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2013 

Glare from a brightly lit Christmas tree in a downtown park might have been a factor in a Lexington firefighter's running over and killing a pedestrian on Dec. 8, according to police.

An investigative report released Tuesday said ambient light reflected off rain-slicked pavement and the fire truck's wet windshield could have impaired firefighter Chris Presley's vision as he turned a city-owned fire truck left from Main Street onto South Broadway.

Lauren Woodall Roady, 27, was legally crossing South Broadway at the time. She was struck by the left side of the Lexington fire department's Engine 9 and run over by its back wheels, police have said. She died at the scene.

Presley, 40, remained on paid, administrative leave Tuesday, city spokeswoman Susan Straub said.

The police report, provided to the Herald-Leader in response to an open-records request, outlined the months-long investigation carried out by the police department's Collision Reconstruction Unit.

The report revealed numerous factors that could have caused Presley not to see Roady, and Roady not to see or hear the truck. The truck was not on an emergency run at the time of the accident, and its lights and sirens were not activated.

Police concluded that Roady had the right-of-way and Presley "had the obligation to observe and yield to Mrs. Roady," the report said.

However, Presley told police he didn't see Roady before making the turn.

"He felt like he 'ran over a speed bump' with his back tires but saw nothing," the report said. "He looked in the mirror and saw 'something lying in the road' then immediately stopped Engine 9."

The report said numerous "environmental factors" could have been partially to blame. Obstructions included the rainy weather, fog, an abundance of foot traffic, Roady's dark-colored clothing and blind spots in the fire truck's cab.

The Christmas tree at nearby Triangle Park "backlit" the periphery of the fire truck's windshield, which Presley would had to have looked through to see Roady on the sidewalk, the report said. That part of the windshield was coated with rain because it is not cleared by the truck's windshield wipers.

Light from other sources such as traffic signals, business signs and street lights reflected off the wet road.

"The light in the area ... did not illuminate the intersection effectively and other light sources acted more as distractions or impairments," the report said.

The report answered several questions that have lingered since the accident, including toxicology results for both Presley and Roady.

No drugs or alcohol were found in Presley's system immediately after the wreck. Roady had a blood-alcohol content of 0.042, about half the legal limit of 0.08 for driving. No drugs were found in her system, the report said.

Roady was wearing a "multi-colored purple sweater," dark denim jeans and brown shoes. She was carrying an open umbrella in her right hand — the side from which the fire truck approached.

Police noted that Roady was wearing hearing aids when she was struck, but the report did not go into detail about Roady's hearing impairment.

"Test results showed Mrs. Roady's hearing aids were adjusted to provide the most amplification to mid-level sound ranges," the report said. "For a complete understanding of Mrs. Roady's hearing, it would be necessary to compare the hearing aid settings to her audiology testing. This was not done as her audiology test was not requested."

A cell phone was located near Roady's body, but investigators said she was not using it as she entered the crosswalk. Presley was not using his cell phone either, the report said.

Many of the signs police use to investigate fatal collisions were not present after the Dec. 8 collision.

"The weather conditions at the scene made fine evidence difficult at best to identify if it were present," the report said.

There were no skid marks from the truck's tires or scuff marks from Roady's shoes because the road was wet and the fire truck was traveling at low speed, about 5 mph, as it navigated the turn, the report said. Presley did not try to brake until after the collision.

There was no damage to the truck. "Cleansing marks" — spots where Roady's clothing wiped dirt off the truck's carriage — gave police an indication of where Roady first came in contact with the 37,500-pound fire engine.

No surveillance cameras captured the collision, and there were no direct witnesses, the report said.

"Although many persons were on social media claiming to be witnesses, the resulting efforts produced very few witnesses to the collision. Many persons could not be identified. Some persons who were identified were clearly claiming to be witnesses but in fact did not see the collision," the report said.

The collision has not resulted in any policy changes at the fire department, Straub said. Joe Best, spokesman for the fire department, said its administration had not had a chance to review the report's findings and could not immediately comment.

There does not seem to have been any litigation resulting from the accident either in Fayette County Circuit Court or U.S. District Court in Lexington.

Straub said the city had not paid out any settlements, but she said she could not reveal whether the city has spoken with attorneys for Roady's family.

Roady, an attorney for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., was in Lexington with members of her running club to compete in a cross-country event at Masterson Station Park.

She was on the way to the Horse and Barrel pub on North Broadway to meet her teammates when she was hit.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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