Manuel Velasco was killed in an early morning traffic crash with James Choaffner in Palm Beach, Florida. Choaffner was airlifted to the hospital and is listed in critical condition. This car accident is still under investigation and few facts are presently known about what happened or which party caused the accident.
According to news reports, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office claims that James Choaffner, 26, was traveling eastbound on Forest Hill Blvd and the Manuel Velscao, 62, was traveling northbound on Haverhill Road. While it seems like the media reports are claiming that Velasco’s Chevrolet van collided with Choaffner’s Lincoln, it is still unclear which driver was responsible for the accident.
As a criminal lawyer who routinely deals with car accident cases, I wonder if this accident was caused by an impaired driver, since it occurred around 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Before I entered private practice, I served as a supervisor in the Broward County State Attorney’s Office DUI unit. My job included prosecuting high profile DUI cases as well as training/supervising new DUI prosecutors.
After litigating hundreds and hundreds of DUI cases, it became clear that early Sunday morning is a ripe time for impaired drivers to be on the road. After spending Saturday night drinking and/or using drugs, many party-goers wind their way home between 1:00am and 6:00am Sunday morning.
This is a recipe for disaster because the level of their impairment can be peaking at the precise time when their alertness is most diminished due to the early morning hour. The combination of peak impairment with maximum sleepiness is the worst of all combinations.
Whether this car accident was the result of a DUI driver or some other cause, those involved should hire a lawyer with experience. Specifically, the best kind of lawyer for a case like this is one who has experience dealing with police investigations.
Whenever someone is killed in a car accident, police investigators treat the case as though it were a homicide. In fact, most police departments have “traffic homicide” investigators who have been specifically trained to investigate what are formally referred to as “traffic fatalities.”
Without delving too much into the details, traffic fatality investigations involve a number of main steps. First, the scene of the accident must be roped off to prevent contamination or molestation of evidence.
Second, crime scene technicians must photograph the scene of the accident. This includes taking pictures of any gouges in the concrete caused during the accident, damage to medians, trees, light poles, and any skid marks left on the roadway.
While it is very gruesome and impersonal, police investigators will also take ample photographs of the location, position, and condition of the crash victim.
Taking as many photographs as possible is extremely important because accident scenes are fluid environments. Evidence can be moved unintentionally, its position on the scene of the accident can get shuffled, wind, rain, and other weather elements can also cause changes to the location, position, and condition of evidence.
Recording this information is extremely important because this it will be needed to extrapolate the mechanics of the car accident to determine who is responsible. This type of analysis is a professional specialty reserved for experts. The more accurate information that is presented to them, the more accurate their analysis will be.
This field is called accident reconstruction. An expert who performs professional accident reconstruction is referred to as an “accident reconstructionist.”
These experts are routinely hired by police departments and private lawyers to determine who was at fault in any particular case.
Getting back on point, once the scene is roped off and photographed, or even while that is being done by crime scene technicians, other investigators will begin mapping out the scene of the accident.
Think of graph paper.
Using a central point, traffic homicide investigators will map out the scene of the accident and determine where the initial point of contact between the two vehicles occurred, where and how they traveled after contact, and finally, where they came to rest.
Before drawing any final conclusions about the car accident, police investigators will also take statements from any eye witnesses. Truthfully, eye witness testimony, when reliable, can be the best form of evidence in a car accident.
Assuming an eye witness had a chance to clearly see the accident and has no reason to lie, their explanation about what happened can be the singular most important piece of evidence available in a case like this.
Next, police investigators will need to obtain any and all available surveillance video. Such video may come from traffic cameras, nearby ATM machines, or private outdoor security cameras. Sometimes, video cameras like these are able to capture all or part of an accident. Even if only a partial video is obtained, enough evidence may have been recorded to figure out what happened and to determine who caused the car accident.
The point in mentioning all of this is to explain how thorough and in depth investigations into car accidents that leave one person dead can be.
A good lawyer will be familiar with this process and will have the aggressiveness needed to get results. The deceased person and their family deserve nothing less. Knowing how to litigate cases like these in the courtroom is a skill that one can only gain from experience.
Not all lawyers are created equal. Especially injury lawyers.
In my opinion, cases like these call for lawyers who have tremendous familiarity with police traffic homicide investigations. Knowing how to determine who is responsible will be key in this case.
Ultimately, the victim, whichever party that turns out to be, may be entitled to monetary compensation for injuries, especially if the person who died was NOT the cause of the car crash. Either way, the victim party will be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, and even disability if liability can be proven. In the case of a person who is killed, his/her family would be the ones entitled to compensation.
This is serious business and requires a very professional and knowledgeable lawyer.
At the end of the day, I hope the evidence in this case reveals who is truly responsible for this crash. My condolences go out to the family of the person that died and to those affected by this car accident.