September 13, 2012

High-tech auto collision reconstruction systems fast, efficient


---- — RAY BROOK — So far this year, State Police Troop B’s Collision Reconstruction Unit has responded to 39 accidents, 24 of which involved fatalities.

The seven-member team is part of the troop’s Forensic Identification Unit, made up of investigators and troopers who are in charge of accident reconstruction in Clinton, Franklin, Essex, St. Lawrence and Hamilton counties. 

The unit responds to accidents and locations of crimes to create digital maps. It reconstructs what happened using electronic and robotic total-work stations that mark the location of evidence and record it in a diagram that can be used in a criminal case.

“The No. 1 contributing factor (in such accidents) is speed,” Troop B Bureau of Criminal Investigation Lt. Scott Heggleke said Wednesday at a media demonstration at Troop B headquarters.

He said alcohol ranks No. 2.

One of the deciding factors for dispatching the Reconstruction Unit is the likelihood of criminal prosecution, because a fatal accident is handled as a death investigation, like a homicide, Heggleke said.


The Collision Reconstruction Unit doesn’t just reconstruct motor-vehicle accidents. The team works double duty on the Forensic Identification Unit, mapping evidence on homicide cases.

Most recently, it used its total-work stations to map where the body of Dale S. Jarvis Sr., 48, was found, buried in his backyard at 14 White St. in Chateaugay. On Tuesday, his son Dale “D.J.” Jarvis Jr., pleaded guilty to manslaughter for, in February, striking his father in the head with a sledgehammer, killing him and then hiding his body.

The Collision Reconstruction Unit allows State Police to free up other investigators to do interviews and collect other evidence, Heggleke said.

“The best thing about it is we can re-create a scene, whether it’s tomorrow or 10 years from now,” he said, and that way if there is ever the need to introduce evidence in court, it’s there to back it up.


At the demonstration, Investigator Brendan Frost, Trooper Kristina Stewart and Trooper Gregory Hayes showed how their team uses the total-work stations, using two sedans.

The first car was stopped at a high speed to create skid marks; the second was pushed into place using a four-piece dolly system, lining up the two vehicles as they would have rested had they been in an actual accident. 

Next, Stewart and Hayes recorded the points of evidence with the electronic work station to create a digital diagram.

The work stations, Frost said, “make clearing the collision scenes quicker, and it’s more efficient for us.”


Opening roads faster is their main purpose, some 25 percent quicker than with the previous equipment they used, according to Frost.

He described the electronic equipment as “basically, an electronic tape measure.”

That system requires two people to operate. During the demonstration, Hayes held the prism pole, which bounced measurements back to Stewart, where she recorded them.

The robotic work station can be operated by one person. It spins 360 degrees on a tripod and follows the individual holding the prism pole, who again records the evidence.

Troop B has had the instruments for close to two years.

“They are much more efficient,” Frost said.

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