The Death of David Washington and the Need for Better DPD Crash Reports
The second Denver pedestrian killed by a driver this year was David Washington Jr., 26. According to a police report [PDF], he was lying in the westbound side of East Colfax near Wabash Street on the night of January 30, possibly because of “a medical issue,” when a woman ran him over with her Crown Victoria.
Police did not charge the driver with any wrongdoing. Instead, Denver PD’s crash report implies that Washington was wholly to blame for his own death.
“Mr. Washington was wearing dark clothing and was possibly having a medical issue,” states the four-sentence summary in the report. The report says Washington had been drinking, without citing any evidence for that assertion. Police even wrote Washington up for a violation: As a “pedestrian on highway” — Colfax — Washington apparently broke the law.
Washington can’t tell his version of events — the only record of what happened is the Denver PD’s report, which is mostly a collection of checkboxes that seem poorly suited to determining the factors at work in a fatal pedestrian crash. (It refers to pedestrians as “vehicles.”)
The crash report lacks key information, like the driver’s speed at the time of the crash. Was she exceeding the speed limit, limiting her ability to react and increasing the risk of fatal injury in the event of a crash? Or was she traveling at a suitable speed for an urban street? The police report doesn’t say.
A Denver Police Department spokesperson told Streetsblog that investigators used testimony from the driver and from witnesses in this crash report. But none of that information is spelled out in the report itself, so it’s impossible to verify.
No cameras caught this crash. If there had been video footage, police would have used it in their investigation, the spokesperson said, but would not let the public see it.
All we’re left with is the most threadbare account of the crash that ended David Washington’s life, an account that relies heavily on the testimony of the person who ran him over.
When Denver Police Chief Robert White joined Mayor Hancock in committing to ending traffic deaths and serious injuries, he said he viewed traffic violence as preventable, not inevitable. To prevent crashes systematically, we need to collect detailed information on what causes traffic deaths and injuries.
Better police reports and more transparency regarding crash evidence are going to be essential tools for the city departments and advocates tasked with helping Denver reach zero deaths.
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Washington was the first pedestrian to be killed this year. He was the second.