The available evidence from the recent car crash involving Tiger Woods indicates that the famed golfer was not paying attention to the road and drifted off of it before crashing his car, three forensic car accident experts told USA TODAY Sports.
The same experts also say the evidence does not indicate he lost control of his vehicle because of excessive speeding on a curved downhill road that is known for speeding cars. They arrived at this theory based on several factors, especially the way Woods’ vehicle appeared to keep going straight ahead instead of staying on the road as it curved right. Woods, 45, was traveling north near Los Angeles when his sports utility vehicle left its lane, went across the median into the southbound lanes, then went off the road, hit a tree, rolled over and sustained major frontal damage. Woods also broke multiple bones in his lower right leg, which indicates he was applying the brake at the time of impact, according to the experts. They also said the evidence indicates Woods applied the brake late into the collision sequence. “To me, this is like a classic case of falling asleep behind the wheel, because the road curves and his vehicle goes straight,” said Jonathan Cherney, a consultant who provides car accident analysis as an expert witness in court cases. Cherney, a former police detective, examined the Woods’ crash site in person since the accident on Tuesday.
“It’s a drift off the road, almost like he was either unconscious, suffering from a medical episode or fell asleep and didn’t wake up until he was off the road and that’s where the brake application came in,” Cherney said. There were no skid marks on the road to indicate braking, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Woods’ vehicle did have anti-lock brakes. So even if he were to slam on the brakes prior to hitting the curb, “you wouldn’t necessarily see tire marks,” said Felix Lee, an accident reconstruction expert who is part of the Expert Institute, a network that provides expert witnesses in litigation. Lee said a key clue is how the vehicle did not change direction entering the curve and instead went directly into the median.
“My feeling is that speed wasn’t that much of an issue,” Lee said. “It was just some kind of inattention that caused the curb strike.”
After leaving his lane and striking the median, Woods’ vehicle went about 400 feet before stopping. Cherney said he didn’t see evidence of “any steering input” that would indicate Woods tried to avoid the emergency. This suggests a “very delayed response” by Woods to the situation, said Rami Hashish, principal at the National Biomechanics Institute, which analyzes the cause of accidents. “It was suggesting he wasn’t paying attention at all.” Hashish said he suspects the damage to the vehicle and Woods would have been much greater if he had been traveling at an excessive speed. The speed limit on that road is 45 mph.
“You can walk away with a broken leg from 45 to 50 mph,” Hashish said. “If you’re hitting 60, 65 and you’re hitting a stationary object, your likelihood of death increases exponentially.”
If he was going 80 mph, “he wouldn’t be having an open fracture in this leg,” Hashish said. “He’d be dead.” Villanueva, the L.A. County Sheriff, said he didn’t know the vehicle’s speed yet but said it could have been a factor, as well as inattentiveness. The accident was serious enough that it could end Woods golf career. He had to be extricated from the vehicle and taken to the hospital for surgery.
“This stretch of road is challenging, and if you’re not paying attention, you can see what happens,” Villanueva said Wednesday. Villanueva said then that the crash was “purely an accident” and that there was no evidence of impairment or medication involved. He also said Woods was “lucid” at the time a sheriff’s deputy arrived on the scene Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean he might not have been alert when he left his lane and kept going until he crashed.