Tiger Woods driving more than 82 mph before crash, unclear if he was conscious, sheriff says
Tiger Woods was driving at an excessive speed before he crashed his vehicle in February, but authorities don’t know if he was conscious when he lost control of his vehicle that day, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced Wednesday.
Sheriff Alex Vilanueva said Woods was traveling more than 82 mph in a 45-mph zone and instead of braking was actually accelerating prior to impact, according data received from the black box recorder of Woods’ loaner Genesis SUV.
Captain Jim Powers said "We don't know that" when asked if Woods was conscious prior to impact.
Woods will not be cited for a traffic violation, said Villanueva, who received permission from Woods to release the crash investigation details.
The famed golfer broke bones in his right leg during the crash Feb. 23 in Rolling Hills Estates, south of downtown Los Angeles. He underwent surgery and announced on Twitter March 16 that he was recovering from home after being released from the hospital.
Forensic car crash reconstruction experts contacted by USA TODAY Sports said the available evidence from the crash was consistent with Woods being unconscious from the time he lost control until the time of impact.
One of those experts is Jonathan Cherney, a former police detective who walked the scene after the crash. He said it was “like a classic case of falling asleep behind the wheel, because the road curves and his vehicle goes straight.”
Tiger Woods continued left as street curved right
Instead of staying with his downhill lane as it curved right, Woods kept going left, struck the eight-inch curb of the median, hit a large wooden sign, kept going through the median, then went into opposing traffic lanes and off the road before going through extensive vegetation, hitting a tree and rolling over.
His vehicle traveled an estimated 400 feet after leaving his lane and hitting the median. If he had been conscious, the theory is that there would be some evidence of braking or steering, the experts said. There were no skid marks on the road, Villanueva said. Even with anti-lock brakes, experts said there could be faint skid marks. After striking a curb and hitting a large sign in the median, the theory is that a driver would try to correct the error and get out of the emergency by driving back onto the road and braking.
Woods, 45, instead kept going and going in a fairly straight direction with no signs of slowing down. He then told first responders that he didn’t remember how the accident occurred and didn’t remember driving.
The sheriff’s department also did not seek blood evidence from him, saying he appeared lucid at the scene of the crash and that there were no signs of impairment to warrant a blood examination. Villanueva first stressed that the crash was "purely an accident" while his department also emphasized that the road Woods had been driving on was known for accidents and speeding.
To learn more about what happened, the sheriff’s department then execute a search warrant to obtain the data from the vehicle’s black box, which typically shows speed, steering and braking activity before impact.
After obtaining the data, Villanueva offered some clarification on March 17 when he said there were no “obvious” signs of impairment. He then went on to talk about “lessons learned” and said, “I can tell you this: We do need more drug-recognition experts within the department.”
Drug-recognition experts (DRE) are law enforcement officers trained to recognize signs of impairment that are not obvious. After a crash, they go through a 12-step process to evaluate a driver for impairment and can request a blood examination. No DRE was used in the Woods case because Villanueva said then that it wasn’t necessary.
“We can’t just assume that somebody’s history makes them guilty,” sheriff's deputy John Schloegl told USA TODAY Sports March 2.
In 2009, Woods was cited for careless driving after crashing into a tree and fire hydrant outside his mansion in Florida. He was found unconscious at the scene and a witness then said Woods had been prescribed the sleep medication Ambien and the painkiller Vicodin, according to a police report.
In 2017, he was found asleep at the wheel in Florida and arrested for drunken driving. A toxicology report later showed he had Ambien, Vicodin, THC and other medications in his system. He checked into a clinic after that to get help dealing with medication for pain and a sleep disorder. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving.
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