There is an old joke that when you don't know what a Shakespeare play is about, just say it concerns "appearance versus reality" and you'll always be right. For years, we've said something similar about almost every car accident that appears in the news. Crash victims call us up all the time with tales of what happened in their accidents and they bear only a passing resemblance to what's in the police report, while rarely sounding anything like the newspaper account.
Some might think that the people who call us are just trying to put the best spin on their role in the crash and that is what accounts for the discrepancy between their tale, the police's, and the newspaper's; but our attitude is that we go where the evidence takes us. More often than not, when we conduct our investigation of the accident, we realize that the press accounts may as well have been about an accident in another country, since they ended up having so little resemblance to what the physical evidence said happened.
When we sound the alarm about how unreliable police reports and news accounts actually are, how frequently they get crucial details wrong, people accuse us of being alarmists or conspiracy theorists. Well, every once in awhile, we get wind of a crash that perfectly illustrates what we are always telling people; police reports deserve skepticism and don't form any firm opinion from newspaper accounts. This is one of those incidents.
How the Press Got One Fatal Lubbock Crach Completely Wrong
Around 11:30 a.m., Thursday, July 27th, a fatal wreck occurred near the intersection of FM 2641 and FM 179, in Shallowater, Texas, just outside of Lubbock. In that crash, Hershel Newman, Jr., 68, was killed after his vehicle collided in the intersection with a pick-up driven by Wesley Wright, 22. Mr. Wright also sustained injuries in the incident.
I don't mean to pick on any single newspaper, but a local outlet reported that "preliminary reports indicate that Wright may have disregarded a stop sign." If your only source of information was that article, you'd likely believe that the cause of Mr. Newman's death was Mr. Wright running a stop sign. It seems like a straight-forward, open-and-shut case.
There's just one problem: We have it on good authority that there was a construction crew doing work at that intersection. Apparently, that road crew had removed the stop sign from the intersection and didn't bother to put a temporary one up. If this crucial detail turns out to be true (and we strongly trust our source that it is), that would mean that the press is reporting that Mr. Wright "ignored" a stop sign that wasn't actually there.
What reason would there be to keep the fact that a road crew may have caused this accident? Our same source says that it was a TxDoT crew that was working at the intersection. Again, if this is true, then not only would there be a strong argument that TxDoT is really to blame for Mr. Newman's death, but their negligence would have also caused Mr. Wrigth's injuries. It would also mean that while Mr. Wright bears the public suspicion of causing a fatal accident, the people who were actually responsible, those who forgot to put up a temporary sign are going about their lives as if nothing happened.
The Reality of Car Crashes Is Rarely as It First Appears
Whether it's a whistle-blower, a good Samaritan, or an accident forensic expert, rarely does a serious accident go by where new evidence doesn't come to light, which completely changes our view of what happened. While people may greet us with cross looks and raised eyebrows when we tell them just how frequently the first impression of an accident isn't what actually happened, time and time again, something happens that blows a case wide open and shows that was appeared to be the case isn't the reality of the situation.
In the end, we do the work we do to make sure that the bad guys are punished. While every one of our clients wants the person who injured them or their loved one held accountable for their reckless behavior, none of them want the wrong person to pay for something that wasn't their fault. Our justice system only works properly when accompanied by a healthy dose of skepticism. The reason that we insist that the evidence do the talking in each and every case is because it speaks most honestly towards the truth.
Police can offer their best guess at what happened, but they often lack the resources and training to properly investigate all but the most rudimentary accidents. Newspapers are free to parrot the guesses of the police, often even doing that much poorly. I don't say any of this to brag, like we're some sort of super-human detectives, but in our line of work, guesses just don't cut it. The media can traffic in appearances, but justice demands that we uncover reality.