The (Columbia) State
Columbia Mayor-Elect Steve Benjamin
COLUMBIA The S.C. Highway Patrol found multiple errors in the Columbia Police Department’s review of Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin’s April 21 car accident, documents released Friday evening show.
But Columbia interim Police Chief Carl Burke issued a statement with the documents, saying those failures would not have changed the ultimate outcome of the investigation. The police concluded Benjamin contributed to the wreck by driving without his headlights on. The other driver, Deborah Rubens, was cited for driving without insurance.
In an 11-page report, the Highway Patrol disagreed with five of the Police Department’s findings, including the department’s original conclusion that Rubens should have been able to recognize that Benjamin’s headlights were out.
The Highway Patrol also identified 10 things the traffic investigators failed to do.
Finally, the Highway Patrol listed five areas in which the police officers need to be trained to better analyze accidents.
Burke acknowledged that “certain technical aspects were not performed by the Columbia Police Department during its investigation.”
“However, the failure of the Columbia Police Department to perform such accident reconstruction techniques would not have changed the ultimate conclusions reached by the Columbia Police Department,” Burke’s statement said.
The Highway Patrol’s Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team reviewed the report at the department’s request.
The patrol’s review was released late Friday afternoon by the Police Department. The city also released its 218-page investigation report n Friday night, along with videos and photographs related to the accident.
While Burke’s statement said the Highway Patrol concurred with the Police Department’s conclusions in the investigation, there were no documents to support his statement.
Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, had not seen his agency’s report until The State newspaper provided a copy to him Friday night and was unaware the city planned to release it until late Friday afternoon.
Gaulden said he had been told by Public Safety Director Mark Keel that the Highway Patrol agreed with the Police Department’s decision to cite Benjamin for driving without headlights, which contributed to the accident.
Burke did not return phone calls Friday night. Columbia assistant city manager Mike King, who is in charge of public safety, said he had not read the Highway Patrol’s report. City manager Steve Gantt could not be reached for comment.
The release of the Highway Patrol review and the city reports came two days after Benjamin broke his five-week silence on the accident and released some documents to the media. The day before, Rubens’ attorney had revealed to The State newspaper that police found Benjamin had contributed to the accident.
Benjamin and Rubens collided at 5:43 a.m., just hours after Benjamin was elected mayor. He was driving east on Gervais Street on his way to an early morning television interview. Rubens was making a right turn from Pickens Street onto Gervais Street.
Benjamin was not injured. Rubens suffered a brain injury and multiple broken bones.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who is Benjamin’s lawyer, said the Highway Patrol’s report does not change the accident’s outcome or the results of the police investigation. Benjamin has paid the $82 traffic ticket.
Rick Detwiler, who is Ruben’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
The city Police Department’s 218-page report is an amended version, Burke’s statement said. Those amendments were made as a result of the Highway Patrol’s review. The review looked at the Police Department’s accident reconstruction efforts, witness statements, photos, human factors, things not done and officers’ training.
The patrol’s documents indicate police investigators originally concluded Rubens should have recognized Benjamin was driving without lights and therefore failed to yield the right of way.
However, the Highway Patrol said, “If Benjamin’s vehicle was in the shadows at the time when an average driver would have looked left to see if the roadway was clear, we would expect them to do the same as Ms. Rubens.”
The patrol noted that Columbia police officers have not received training on how human factors play into traffic accidents but still reached conclusions based on them. The Highway Patrol called those opinions “faulty.”
Also, Columbia police said they could not calculate drivers’ speeds in the accident because Ruben’s car hit a utility pole. The Highway Patrol said speed could indeed be calculated.
The patrol also disagreed with the Police Departments conclusions on: the impact location, the post-impact travel of Benjamin’s vehicle and the final resting position of Benjamin’s vehicle.
The patrol’s list of “things not done” include: identifying road marks at the scene, performing a mechanical test, performing a headlamp test and addressing human factors, including fatigue.
In a news conference Wednesday, Benjamin said he got about three hours of sleep after he won the election. He said he had about 10 hours sleep in the previous two nights.
Neither driver was impaired at the time of the accident, although the patrol’s report said Rubens had consumed marijuana within three days. Benjamin said he had one rum cocktail and had a portion of a vodka cocktail the night before the accident.