Sheriff executes search warrant for black box from Tiger Woods' crashed car
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has executed a search warrant to obtain data from the “black box” in the car that was crashed last week by famed golfer Tiger Woods, sheriff’s personnel confirmed Tuesday to USA TODAY Sports.
But the sheriff’s department has decided not to seek a warrant to obtain Woods’ blood to help determine whether he was under the influence of medication at the time of the crash Feb. 23.
To obtain such a warrant for the black box, law enforcement is required to establish there was probable cause that a crime was committed, even if it’s just a misdemeanor.
A sheriff’s deputy Tuesday downplayed the warrant as a routine part of their probe. He said he didn’t consider it a criminal investigation, but rather due diligence. The affidavit that the sheriff’s department used to establish such probable cause was not immediately available.
“We’re trying to determine if a crime was committed,” Sheriff’s Deputy John Schloegl told USA TODAY Sports Tuesday. “If somebody is involved in a traffic collision, we’ve got to reconstruct the traffic collision, if there was any reckless driving, if somebody was on their cell phone or something like that. We determine if there was a crime. If there was no crime, we close out the case, and it was a regular traffic collision.”
Schloegl also said there was “no probable cause” to get a warrant to obtain Woods’ blood from him or the hospital he went to with broken bones in his lower right leg after the crash.
He added that the Woods camp has been cooperative. Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, did not immediately return an email seeking comment on Tuesday night.
In 2017, Woods was found asleep at the wheel in Florida and had numerous medications in his system including the sleep aid Ambien, Vicodin, Xanax, Dilaudid and THC, according to the toxicology report that came out later. In January, he announced he had recently undergone the latest of several surgical procedures on his back.
“We can’t just assume that somebody’s history makes them guilty,” Schloegl said. He noted that first responders observed Woods to be alert with no evidence of impairment after he crashed his vehicle, a Genesis GV80, while headed north near Rolling Hills Estates in Los Angeles County.
There is a higher standard for law enforcement to get blood evidence in a case like this at this point in the investigation, said Jonathan Cherney, a former police detective who is now an accident reconstruction expert. He said they would need to establish probable cause for a felony crime to get medical records, as compared to probable cause of at least a misdemeanor to get the black box data.
“If Tiger was under the influence of drugs when he crashed, it’s only a misdemeanor if he doesn’t hurt anyone else except himself,” Cherney said. “That ties their hands as far as getting his blood at this point. However, if someone at the scene or hospital had examined Tiger for objective symptoms of drug influence, and found some, they could have justified taking his blood under the (driving under the influence of drugs) laws.”
Cherney and other accident reconstruction experts told USA TODAY Sports that the evidence indicates Woods wasn’t paying attention when he left his lane and kept going straight instead of sticking with his lane as it curved right. He instead went over the curb through a median, knocked down a sign, went into opposing lanes, then went off the road, hit a tree and rolled over in a single-car crash.
After hitting the initial curb, he traveled about 400 feet in a relative straight line without apparent evidence of steering out of it or braking in the form of skid marks. If he had been looking down at his phone momentarily, the theory is that he wouldn’t travel that far in a straight line without trying to steer out of it or without leaving more evidence of braking on the road.
Cherney, who walked the crash scene after it happened, said it looked like a classic case of being asleep at the wheel.
“You can probably tell that if he slammed on his brakes after jumping the divider he would not have traveled as far, would not have as much damage to the front of his car and would not have had as extensive injuries to his foot all because he would have reduced his vehicle’s speed,“ Cherney said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva last week said the crash was “purely an accident.”
However, the sheriff’s department tempered that somewhat Tuesday after USA TODAY Sports asked the basis of that conclusion.
“The Sheriff spoke about the information known at that time, and said it appeared to be a traffic accident,” the department said in a statement. “However, the traffic collision investigation is (on)going and traffic investigators have not made any conclusions as to the cause of the collision.”
Schloegl confirmed the black-box data has been downloaded but didn’t reveal its contents. The data from it typically can show the vehicle’s speed, steering angle, brake and acceleration activity before impact.
“As far as getting a warrant or getting the download from the car, we just do it automatically,” Schloegl said. “We want answers, so that’s the route we take.”
He said Genesis has taken possession of the vehicle.
“We’re done with it,” he said. “We’ve got everything we need.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: email@example.com