Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday the cause of Tiger Woods' February car crash has been determined and the investigation has concluded, but he needs Woods' permission to release the report.
California law restricts access to full crash reports to only certain involved parties.
Woods, who suffered broken bones in his right leg, announced March 16 on Twitter that he was back home. Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, didn't return a message from USA TODAY Sports seeking comment.
Villanueva also said he still considers the single-car crash to have been an “accident” despite evidence that suggests the famed golfer didn’t brake or steer out of the emergency for nearly 400 feet after striking an eight-inch curb in the median.
“You have an accident and you have deliberate acts,” Villanueva said on a Facebook livestream session in response to a question from USA TODAY Sports. “It’s an accident, OK. We’re reaching out to Tiger Woods to be able to release the report itself, and nothing has changed from what we know and what we learned throughout the course of the investigation. And everything we did turned out to be accurate.”
Tiger Woods was involved in a rollover accident on Feb. 23 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. (Photo: Harrison Hill, via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
The sheriff otherwise has not released detailed findings from his department’s investigation into the crash Feb. 23 in Rolling Hills Estates, south of downtown Los Angeles.
Villanueva’s response Wednesday differed from what he said about the crash investigation on March 17.
“Yes, we’ll have the full thing released, and we’ll do a full press conference and that, because I know there’s going to be a lot of questions and we’ll pick it apart,” Villanueva said then.
Forensic car crash reconstruction experts differ with Villanueva on describing crashes as accidents simply because they are not “deliberate.” For example, drunk-driving crashes could be considered “accidents” in a broad sense because they are not deliberate. By their narrower definition, true accidents are rare because crashes typically have real causes, such as negligence of the driver, even if it’s not on purpose.
In this case, forensic experts say the evidence suggests Woods was not conscious when he left his lane and kept going in a straight line before crashing. Instead of staying with the downhill road as it curved right, he went straight over the curb in the median to the left, hit a wooden sign and kept going in a straight line into opposing traffic lanes before leaving the road, hitting a tree and rolling over.
Jonathan Cherney, an accident reconstruction expert and former police detective who walked the scene, told USA TODAY Sports it was “like a classic case of falling asleep behind the wheel, because the road curves and his vehicle goes straight.”
There were no skid marks on the road, Villanueva said. Instead, Woods' Genesis SUV kept going straight for several hundred feet. Woods later told sheriff’s deputies he couldn’t remember how the crash occurred and didn't remember even driving.
After the crash, the sheriff’s department executed a search warrant to obtain data from the vehicle’s black box, which could show how fast he was going and any braking or steering activity. Asked by USA TODAY Sports on March 17 what he learned from the black box, the sheriff replied, “We learned a few things, which is important,” but he didn’t elaborate.
He said then there were no “obvious” signs of impairment by Woods on the crash scene that day. He went on to talk about “lessons learned” and said, “We do need more drug-recognition experts within the department.” Such drug-recognition experts (DREs) are trained officers who evaluate drivers for signs of impairment that aren’t obvious. DREs then can request a blood examination for evidence of drug use.
Woods was not evaluated by a DRE that day, and his blood was not examined because the deputies determined Woods was lucid and said it was not necessary.
Woods was found unconscious at the scene of two previous driving incidents. One was in 2009, when a witness found him snoring in his vehicle after hitting a fire hydrant and tree outside his mansion in Florida. A police report from then noted Woods had been prescribed the sleep medication Ambien and the painkiller Vicodin, according to a witness.
In 2017, police in Florida found him asleep at the wheel and arrested him on suspicion of drunken driving. A toxicology report later found several drugs in his system, including Ambien, Vicodin and THC.
Woods checked into a clinic that year to get help with medications for pain and a sleep disorder.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]
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