Ep. 1 Transcript
David Craig: Today I’m excited to have Kevin Johnson on the podcast. Kevin is one of the top accident reconstructionists working semi and other wrecks. Kevin has been the principal investigator for over 3,000 crashes. He’s the owner of Crash Consulting Services, and investigates and reconstructs wrecks all over the country. Kevin and his company use the most up-to-date technology to help determine how and why a wreck happens. This is After the Crash.
David Craig: I’m attorney Dave Craig, managing partner and one of the founders of the law firm of Craig, Kelley and Faultless. I’ve represented people who have been seriously injured or who have had a family member killed in a semi or other big truck wreck for over 30 years. Following the wreck, their lives are chaos. Often, they don’t even know enough about the process to ask the right questions. It is my goal to empower you by providing you with the information you need to protect yourself and your family. In each and every episode, I will interview top experts and professionals that are involved in truck wreck cases. This is After the Crash.
David Craig: Kevin, I’d like to welcome you to the podcast. We’re thrilled today to have Kevin Johnson, an accident reconstructionist who works all over the country. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kevin, and I’ve also had the misfortune of having Kevin work against me on occasion. Kevin, welcome, and I’d like to at least have you start off talking a little bit about your background, for folks who don’t know you.
Kevin Johnson: Certainly, thank you. As you said my name’s Kevin Johnson, I’m an accident reconstructionist. I actually started off with a degree in bio chemistry from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Found that I enjoyed working car crashes a lot better than I enjoyed swirling test tubes, so I became a police officer. Worked for the Columbia, Missouri police department for about 10 years. My wife’s a pediatric cardiologist, so when she came over to Indianapolis to work at Riley Hospital, I figured it was best to join her. And then I came over and I worked in the private sector. I worked for an accident reconstruction firm here in Indianapolis and did that for about 10, 11 years, working my way up from an accident reconstructionist to where I managed their forensic division. And then in 2011, I decided it was a great opportunity to form my own company and create a crash consulting services. Said that I probably would never like to manage people again, but now I’ve got a total of five recontructionists. So it’s been good.
David Craig: Obviously as a police officer you did all kinds of investigations, what was it that drove you towards the path of being a reconstructionist?
Kevin Johnson: In the police world, I liked the forensic aspects of it. I always had an interest in photography, so I was an evidence tech, working as an evidence tech to do homicide scenes, to do burglaries, robberies, and so forth. But I also had an interest in the scientific method as it applied to car crashes. Car crashes was something that, they happen. They happen all the time. As police officers we investigate those, and getting that extra knowledge to figure out how and why this crash actually happened, and basing it upon science, it was exciting for me.
David Craig: I know there’s a lot of educational training that you have to go through to become a good reconstructionist, can you tell us a little bit about what type of training you’ve had, and how you apply it?
Kevin Johnson: Certainly, it varies in our industry. Some people don’t have advanced degrees. There’s some reconstructionists out there that don’t have a college degree. They’ve been working crashes for 20, 30, 40 years, and developed a trade and developed a good understanding. And there are other people that are PhDs. There’s a lot of people in between. There’s a lot of people that look toward mechanical engineers and people with physics degrees as accident reconstructionists. But it really doesn’t matter, it’s really a lot of the additional training that you get along the way that helps you.
As my dad always said, a college degree tells people that you have the ability to learn. You have those people with the degrees, and then they do advanced training through different organizations. So you have organizations such as Northwestern Traffic Safety Institute, you have the Institute of Police Technology Management. You have Texas A&M and you have several other organizations around the nation that provide crash reconstruction training. And so those start with basic accident reconstruction courses, where you’re working skids distances, distance at tire mark, and reflecting upon what kind of speed was involved in there. You’re doing basic momentum equations and things like that. Then there’s advanced courses, where you may go out to the crash safety team out there in New England with Jeff Muttart, and he teaches human factors. Does a tremendous amount of research in human factors in some of those advanced disciplines.
In our world, we do a lot of things with technology. So you have people that get specialty training with black boxes, whether they’re passenger vehicles or whether they’re in heavy trucks. So there’s a lot of sub specialties that go along with it, and there’s a lot of generalities in this industry as well.
David Craig: And so, I know it’s something where you’re training and continuing to learn all the time, aren’t you?
Kevin Johnson: Absolutely. It’s nice to work with good experts in the field. When we go out and work these cases together, we’re not really against each other. We’re going out there to get the science, we’re getting the answers. I have great peers in this industry that when you go to scenes, when you go to inspections, you still learn every day. There are other experts that know something that you don’t know, and most people will teach you. Most people will teach as you go along and share that knowledge.
David Craig: Well, one of the reasons we started this podcast was I wanted to empower ordinary people with knowledge. Knowledge is power, and so many people have no idea what a reconstructionist does. They have no idea what a lawyer who does semitruck wrecks does. They don’t even know enough to ask questions. So, what we’re trying to do is educate people about what’s involved in different phases of handling a truck wreck case. We wanted to talk with a reconstructionist. Obviously, a truck wreck, a big truck wreck, a commercial motor vehicle wreck is not the same as a car crash. There is quite a bit of difference. Unfortunately, not all lawyers get that, and not all reconstructionists get that. I think it’s important for people that may be a victim of a wreck to be able to ask the right questions. If they’re interviewing lawyers, what kind of reconstructions are you getting? Are they doing this and doing that?
So, by providing them with information, my hope is that they can ask intelligent questions of their lawyers so they can find out, are you doing the right things to protect my interest. Unfortunately, I just recently got a client that had another attorney and he had the attorney for a year, and the attorney didn’t go out and preserve the evidence. He did nothing. He hired no reconstructionist, he did absolutely nothing, and then he got fired a year later. Of course, then I get hired, and my hands are tied.
Kevin Johnson: And it’s too late.
David Craig: So I wanted people to understand that. So, tell us a little bit about first of all, would you agree with me that not all reconstructionists have the ability to do a semitruck or big commercial motor vehicle wreck reconstructions.
Kevin Johnson: Yes, it’s kind of like as you said with attorneys, there are attorneys that have done big truck wrecks, they know the system, and they have a system in place. They have a system of experts in place, they have a system of questions that they’re going to ask in place, and whether you work on the plaintiff side or the defense side, there are teams that work those cases, and we work both sides of those cases. So many people on your team will work both on the plaintiff side as well as defense side, and they have knowledge as to what you need to get. If you have a situation where an attorney doesn’t know the right questions to ask, if they have a good team in place, then that team will assist them and lead them down that path to get that information to them. And then a lot of times we’ll move them on the case to something that they may not even realize. You may have a situation that you think this is a basic truck crash.
We had a trucking company that we’re working for, and we have a vehicle that pulled out in front of us, and our truck hit it. There may be some issues that are not initially seen. There may be line of sight issues. There may be issues with equipment. Looking at the electronics and some other things, you may be able to extract some information that you weren’t looking for, but became very valuable.
David Craig: I think one of the challenges though is if you have an attorney who doesn’t do truck wrecks, one of the problems is they don’t know which experts to hire. One of the great things about doing it for over 30 years, I know there are people out there like you that may be on either side of the case, but they are capable and experienced and knowledgeable and not only that have the equipment to do the job right. That’s what’s scary is you don’t know what you don’t know.
Kevin Johnson: And that’s the big thing now, you brought up the equipment question. And when you get into equipment, there is so much additional specialized equipment when you get into specialties like this. If you look at trucks, trucks are very different than cars. If we have a car crash, we’re traditionally looking at the air bag system in a car for data. There’s some new systems that we’ll talk about a little bit, but we’re traditionally looking for air bags. With your air bag system in a car, we’ve got one piece of equipment, one piece of equipment that hooks up to that vehicle, will hook up to a separate module within that vehicle, or can hookup straight to a network so to speak interface port to it. There’s one piece of equipment for it.
Well, now if you have a truck crash, you may have a Freightliner truck. Like Ford is a product for cars, Freightliner is a product for trucks. But inside that truck, we don’t have a Freightliner engine. We might have a Detroit Diesel engine, we might have a Mercedes engine, we may have a Cummins engine. We may have a Mack or a Volvo engine. We may have something else. And each of these engine manufacturers have different data within them, and each of those engine manufacturers have different ways to connect to obtain the information. So, all those softwares get pretty expensive, you have annual fees with those and everything else, so that precludes a lot of the smaller people in the industry. So, there are a lot of reconstructionists out there that won’t download big trucks. They have to subcontract that task out to somebody who does do it.
David Craig: I see that. I’ve seen reconstructionists that I could use 30 years ago who I can’t use today. And I’ve talked to them about it, because they just don’t have the equipment. When you’re representing the victims of a truck wreck, you want to hire the best, and you want to make sure that they are keeping up on the technology. I like people who work on both sides. On top of that, I want people who have the equipment that can do the job right. Unfortunately, there are some reconstructionists who should not and are not qualified to work on semi or big truck wrecks. Part of it’s because of the investment of money and the equipment, but the other part of it is just the learning curve. You have others who just are set in their ways and don’t really want to learn the new ways of doing things.
Kevin Johnson: Yeah, and the other thing is we all have different paths that we did to get to this situation. A friend of mine up in the Chicago area started out in law enforcement and then went and became an engineer. So he had a great path, because he had the law enforcement side of things, and then he had the engineering side of things, so you could see things from a great perspective. He’s in his retirement now, but he had a great background for that industry.
David Craig: One other thing, before we actually get into the equipment and how you do a reconstruction on a big truck wreck, I want to talk about the importance of moving quickly. Like I said, I just recently got the client who a year later, there’s not a whole lot I can do as far as reconstructing the wreck. A lot of the evidence has been destroyed, but you and I both spoke at a trucking seminar here in Indiana, I think it was in Indianapolis, and one of the defense lawyers talked about her contract required her to be at the scene within hours of the wreck. So a truck wreck happens, the truck driver will call 911, hopefully first, and then call dispatch, and let dispatch know there’s been a wreck. This sets in motion several things, but one of the most important is the trucking company immediately puts a team together to get out to the scene and start investigating.
Kevin Johnson: And I’m going to stop you right there, they don’t immediately put the team together, they already have them in place. That’s what you’re talking about is having that team for yours in place on the plaintiff’s side as well, because on the trucking side, I know when certain truck manufacturers or certain trucking companies have crashes I’m probably going to get a call on that crash. We even have situations now where we may see a truck crash that happens, call up the attorney and say, “Hey we saw one of your crashes, your trucks is making the front page of the paper.” And then that starts moving things in motion as well. So having those teams in place so you can get out there right away and can get that evidence so you don’t get in a situation where a year later you’re trying to get data out of a vehicle or out of a truck, most likely it’s gone. It’s either been put back in service, or it’s no longer available.
David Craig: One of the things I’m real impressed with your company, I had you guys work on a case out in Iowa because you work all over the country. You were able to fly a team out immediately. That’s how quickly these reconstructionists have to be today to do a good job. Tell me a little bit about that.
Kevin Johnson: And that’s kind of helped us with our national work especially with defense attorneys because we do have access to aircraft, we have three pilots that work for my company. We’re all instrument rated, so we can fly through the clouds, and some of the adverse weather conditions to get places. You get there quick, I recently had a case up in the Northern part of the state where I got a call at two o’clock in the afternoon saying we just had a crash, it was in our construction zone. We want to document all the traffic devices that are out there. We want to show that we have the appropriate things in place to warn these motorists that we had a construction site set up properly. So there’s all sorts of aspects on the defense, not just the trucking company involved, but there may be construction companies, there may be other companies that all have these teams in place. So you get a call at two o’clock and they’re like, “Yeah, it’s three hours up South Bend, you probably can’t be there.” And where we can say, “Nope, we’ll be up there in about 40 minutes.”
We flew over the crash scene while the vehicles were still in place. And so having that aircraft to be able to do that is I still consider it a luxury, but it has become very instrumental to getting places quick, efficiently, and then for my benefit getting back to my family.
David Craig: Clearly time is of the essence. It’s important to preserve the evidence, and because on the plaintiff side, like you just mentioned, equipment can be moved, trucks can be put back into service. I’ve seen scenes change especially if it’s a construction site. So I think hopefully you would agree that certainly regardless of which side you’re on time is very important to both sides.
Kevin Johnson: Absolutely. And then another benefit you can have sometimes is when you have people out in the field. We had a case recently where we drove through the construction zone scene. In all of our vehicles, we have video cameras. They run non-stop. We drive through a crash scene, whether it’s for a case and we’re doing the active work on it, or if we just happen to drive through, we can capture information. This was a situation where I’m hired again by one of those construction companies that is trying to make sure that we had everything in place. We had a car that drove through it the morning of the crash. We actually had documentation of that before the crash happened. So, we already had the documentation in place. It was just a fluke that happened. We’re finding more and more by having a lot of vehicles out there in the field, having the equipment in place, we’re capturing some evidence. Then when the calls come in, we can surprise the attorney by oh yeah, we already have that information for you.
David Craig: Let’s talk a little bit about how the technology has changed over the years. I started over 30 years ago, and I can remember going to the scene with reconstructionist, and they would be measuring off with a roller tape and measuring the scene. I can remember the frustration later, after an investigator would go and measure the scene, when you’re getting ready for a deposition and your reconstructionist expert would say, “Did you measure this or that?” And you’re like, “No, I don’t think they did measure this or that.” Because at that time they didn’t think it was important. We hadn’t heard what the defense was going to argue. So back in those days, if you didn’t measure it, you lost it. And that’s not the case anymore. Let’s walk through the changes you’ve seen from the roller tape up to the present.
Kevin Johnson: So if you start back that 30 years or so ago, people were using roller tapes, and they did a method call triangulation or they would do a baseline method, to where you’re doing kind of a coordinate system out there or measurements to figure out where a point is in 3D space. As the computing power increased with things, then we’re able to do a lot of this stuff much more efficiently and faster. So in those early cases, you would have situations where you may go out and measure eight, 10, 20 things on a scene. Then as things progressed, we started using land surveyor tools, they had the old transits and things like that that they used, but then they worked their way up to a total station. And what total station was is kind of like a telescope to where you’re looking at a point somewhere and it’s got a cross beam on it, it’s kind of like a rifle sight, and then you dial up, down, left, right where your telescope, so to speak, is pointing at. And so if we know how high something is, the lateral angle associated with it as well, and the distance using a laser within that device, we can get that point in 3D space.
Then we started getting to where we had, not we’re coming back 50 points, 100 points, 200 points of data, and we can make these nice. You might call them the connect the dots type of diagrams that you would be able to collect data. If you had a tremendously evidence laden scene, then you would have to decide what information you were going to gather, what information you weren’t just because the time involved that it took.
Then once computer power increased more and more, you could use a 3D scanner. The 3D scanner was similar to the total station, but now it has the rotation mirror on it, and it moves automatically through the scene and now we bring back millions of points. And those will still take a while. Each of those scans would take 5, 10 minutes for a scan and gather maybe 50 feet of space a time. So you have a long scene of 1,000 feet, you may be spending two days with a 3D scanner out there, scanning, collecting all these data points. Then along came the drones. The drones we hear all about Amazon trying to deliver things and people using them for all these different industries. For us, the drones are invaluable. They allow us to collect data without being in the road. There’s been a lot of reconstructions that have been involved in crashes, have been involved in pedestrian impacts and reconstructionists killed. Investigators of crashes killed in the field. Because you’re out there as a pedestrian now in a very busy roadway environment.
With drones, we’re able to launch those off the side of the road. We use what are used ground control points. It’s almost like a street sign with a painted checkerboard on it that we can reference inside these photographs. The photographs will be taken overhead and will gather these individual ground control points within it. Then we’ll put all this stuff together as a match. And just like you having two eyes can see in 3D, if we take two photographs, now we can see in stereo, we can see that 3D to it. If we take 200 or 2,000 photographs, we can create an entire surface, such that when you have a scene like this now, you can bring back all that data in 3D. So now we’re not deciding which point we want to measure, which area we want to document, we’re bringing everything back that’s within that line of sight.
So now we have these beautiful scenes that we bring back. If you want to now know a measurement, “Oh, I forgot to measure the curb height.” Then, we can go back to it and measure it. In some cases we even will print the scenes. So, we may have something that we want to document, a roadway defect or something like that on a 3D printer, we can actually print those scenes out, because we’re bringing back those millions of points. What this process uses now, with the drones, is a scientific process called photogrammetry. And with photogrammetry, you’re able to extract data from photographs. Extract dimensional data and so forth.
Back 20 years ago we used to do that with triangulation. We take those photographs that a police officer may take, we didn’t have any measurements. You go out after the fact, you do measure a few things within that, and then now you can use this photographic process to figure out if it’s here to here a certain distance in this triangle, then here to here another distance with this triangle. Then you can start measure where those things are in 3D space.
With computers now, a lot of that stuff can be done as well. There’s a photo modeling product now, so you get a photograph of your year old case that you had but no measurements were taken. Now we can take with a photo model type program and we can extract that data from those images and figure out a lot of those questions that you have and answer those with measurements and so forth.
David Craig: So, the advances are amazing. I think the great thing about it is, as a trial lawyer, I’m interested in the visual effects. How it presents to a jury. And what we have now is so much more advanced in the ability to show and educate and teach people and a jury what happened is phenomenal. So I look at it from two standpoints. One is that if you do it right, you’re preserving the evidence so that you have all the information and whatever you need down the road you’re going to have it. And the reconstructionist can figure it out and look at it, and once you start locking in depositions, you can go back and play with it and say okay, we’ve got like you said, all these measurements, but in addition to that, you have a way to communicate to a jury that you didn’t have 30 years ago.
Kevin Johnson: And the graphics are outstanding along with it, where 30 years ago I remember situations where you’re taking photographs and moving cars and almost making a model move that way to show distances and things change with models. I remember back 20 years ago or 15 years ago we would make entire scenes as a 3D model, and then take that model into the courtroom, but those had to be physically made by model makers, and had a five figure price tag along with this. Now, you send a drone out there, a scene that’s 500, 600 feet long by 100 feet wide, you’re going to document it with a drone, in probably 25 to 30 minutes, you’ll come back, you’ll process that data, and when you’re done, you have a 3D model of this. So now, we can fly through the scene like this, and we can show you different perspectives. If you find out two years later you had a witness who was at this corner of the intersection, you didn’t take a picture while you were there from that vantage point. Now, just like those first person games that you see on PlayStation and things like that, I can put my character anywhere I want within that. I can take a vehicle put it anywhere you want within that. Or a person. And have the perspective shown from that vantage point, because you brought that whole scene back with you.
David Craig: And it’s amazing to me how advanced we are. With these advances, has it gotten more expensive in your opinion? Or in your experience, has it gotten less expensive, to actually be able to collect the information and present it at trial?
Kevin Johnson: A lot less expensive. You would get to where you would have some of the graphics that I used to see, and you have very, very good photorealistic graphic artists out there that would make the graphics that cost $50,000 and up. Now, with some of the drone stuff, you get to where graphics are a fraction of that. Less than a 10th of that cost to be able to do those. You don’t have to take all that time and effort and build a tree, build a house, build a roadway to be able to show things. Now, you’ve gone out and collected it, and you have the actual information that was there. All the way down to the cracks in the pavement. There are many times where we may get crash pictures and they take pictures too close up to a vehicle, and you can’t quite tell what’s what. Well, you see cracks in the pavement, it’s a distinct pattern. Then we can go back to our drone images, look here’s that crack in the pavement, here’s that distinct pattern that’s with it, we match that pattern and say here’s where that is. So there’s a lot of stuff that this technology will help us do.
David Craig: I think one of the questions that I get asked a lot by my clients, or ordinary folks who have the misfortune of being in one of these wrecks is can’t the police do it? Doesn’t the police do their investigation? Why do we need to hire a reconstructionist? I know you have in your company several police officers, and you were a former police officer. Can you explain a little bit, and I know from my own experience that the resources of each police department vary greatly, but maybe you can share why is it that we need reconstruction, private reconstructionists in addition to what the police do?
Kevin Johnson: Certainly. It really comes down to the resources that are available for the industry. You have some departments that believe working crashes and traffic safety is very important. And then you have other departments that, that’s an insurance thing. Let the insurance guys worry about that. We’ll go out there, see if there’s a crime take some pictures, clean off the roadway, and send people on their way. And it’s anywhere in between. So as you’ve said, I’ve got some former police officers and current police officers working with me that shed a lot of experience with what different departments have in different areas. We are actually pro bono for many departments around the state. We will go do downloads for them. Ben Phelps with my office is known around the state with other departments and he may get a call and say, “Hey, we have a truck that’s involved in this crash, can you come download it for us.” And so he’s got an arrangement with his department to where he’ll assist other departments around the state to be able to do that.
But there’s not a lot of equipment out there at the public level. When you get into passenger vehicles and data downloads, you would think that just about every department should have the ability to do that. They don’t. At the state level, you may have, I don’t know what their current count is, but maybe a dozen kits or so around the state for the state police that they share between reconstructionists to be able to image these vehicles. Unless it’s something serious, the vehicles may never be imaged.
When it comes to trucks, current count there is one license holder of software to be able to download Cummins and Detroit Diesel in the state of Indiana for law enforcement side of things with state police. So they don’t get downloaded. Individual police departments don’t have the ability to do those trucks. And that’s where Ben for Boone County here, it’s kind of funny when I get a case that was involved in Boone County or something that way, I’m always happy because I know everything was documented superbly because their group does it. They use the drones, they use the ability to download the trucks, and they do a lot of this stuff, but that’s really a rarity when it comes down to it. It really comes down to training and resources available for them.
David Craig: The police are thankful when we get hired and we put in private reconstructionists. We obviously can afford to invest the money to go out and do it right. I’ve had police officers thank me because we shared that information with them.
Kevin Johnson: Yes, because again, the law enforcement side, they want to know the information. They want the good, the bad, the ugly, and they want to be able to tell the story, explain it to the people that are involved to give families closure on that law enforcement side. It’s very frustrating when you don’t have the equipment. When you don’t have the resources. So that’s where us helping out and doing that at a local and state level to be able to give them those resources to do that is very helpful.
David Craig: Let’s assume that there’s been a truck wreck and it’s in a construction zone and it involves fatalities, and you get the phone call regardless of who calls you, walk us through what does a reconstructionist do, what does your team do?
Kevin Johnson: The first thing we want to really do is document what evidence is still available to us out there. If we get the call on day one, we’ve got great information out there. We have all the skid marks, we have the gauge marks, we have the evidence on the roadway. We may even have the vehicles still present at the scene when we go out there. You’re talking about construction zones, your signage will still be there and everything else. So that would be if you’re called on day one. If you’re called on day 30, you may not have that scene that way. So then what we’d end up doing is we do what’s called a FOIA request. We send out a Freedom Of Information Act request to the police departments to get whatever information they have so we can kind of rebuild that scene. So they may have taken some pictures, but not measurements, or they may have taken a lot of things. Then, we can go to that scene and with those pictures in hand, figure out here’s how things were and then document it based upon that. But no matter when you really do this stuff, you have certain parameters that you want to document. You want to identify the issues associated with the scene.
And they vary from case to case. There’s not really a laundry list that you can say you do this on every case, or do that in every case, but you really have to go out there and see to be able to figure out what your issues are. In a construction zone case, we’re looking at visibility. We’re looking at location of signs, we’re looking at sign placements. And do they follow the manual of uniform traffic control devices. We’re looking at the roadway itself. Is there any issue associated with the roadway that could contribute with roadway defects. You look at the vehicles, you look at the damage to the roadway caused by the vehicles and how they departed and came to their final positions. And then you gather all this information analysis. And so you’re trying to figure out, and be able to answer those questions and put it back together. When you get into accident reconstruction, people kind of say what does an accident reconstructionist do, what different things can they answer? And it really depends on the case. You may have a case where all you want to know is a truck going 55 miles per hour locked up its brakes and how many feet did it take to get to a stop? Well, you’re doing the math and physics and answering that question.
Or you may get a situation where you’re doing vehicle dynamics, and you want to show motion about how the vehicle is being used and you’re using a high-end simulation software to be able to show that dynamic motion. But all these analysis can only be completed if you have the underlying necessary data to do it. We may get situations where something is gone, something’s lost, there’s no documentation, we can’t help you. There’s nothing we can do.
We get cases all the time where somebody wants to have an answer who came into somebody’s lane? Well, I’ve got police pictures of the vehicles. I can’t even tell you what state it occurred in from the pictures of the vehicles let alone whether someone came into somebody else’s lane.
David Craig: You touched on it, when I look at a construction site, and a semi comes in and has hit multiple vehicles, sometimes they’ll say the cars were moving or whatever, if it’s a newer vehicle, you can determine if there’s multiple vehicles striking each other and air bags are going off, you’re going to be able to tell by downloading from the module from the airbag of the car, whether it was going or how fast it was going. You’ll be able to tell from the truck, how fast it was going, and I don’t think people understand that. People are shocked when I tell them, we can tell whether the car was moving or not. Tell us a little bit about what information is available to you from the vehicles themselves?
Kevin Johnson: Certainly. So if we would go back again 20, 30 years on crashes, we didn’t have anti-lock brakes. We used to have all these tremendous amount of skid marks on the roadway, because if somebody was braking hard, they were leaving a mark on the roadway. But then anti-lock brakes came in and we lost some of that evidence. But then we got a lot of information back when had data we could download. The data can tell you how severe the crash is. You have multiple air bag systems in your vehicle, so you have multiple sensors telling which direction the crash is coming from and so forth.
Then they also record what kind of information you have going on with the vehicle in the seconds before the crash with passenger vehicles. Or with trucks, you may get the minutes that occurred before the crash. Using conventional reconstruction techniques, I might be able to tell you a closing speed. I might be able to tell you how they came to rest and all these type things. You couldn’t really have enough information to be precise with your calculations. Now, with the vehicle data recorders, you’re able to get precise information and can nail it down. Then you can compare it with a conventional reconstruction and show the validity of that data.
And then the newer technology that’s even coming out, we touched on airbag control modules on vehicles is the infotainment systems we have in vehicles. That is very, very powerful information for us, especially when you get into situations of texting, situations of talking on the telephone and even some of the travel history of vehicles. All of that can be recorded and downloaded from some newer vehicles.
Kevin Johnson: Some of these reports that I can get out of an infotainment system will be seven, 800 pages long. I have just a great deal of information that is helpful to the crash and a lot of the other information may be helpful to the investigation of the parties involved. For a criminal case, we’ve talked about plaintiff side, defense side, but for a criminal case, you may have a situation where you can have a contact list of everybody that’s been involved in that person’s phone. You may have texts that have gone on in the few minutes before something happened that’s all collected within that infotainment system.
What people don’t think about is when you turn on your car, and you have your radio system in there, when you put your car in reverse it changes from your radio system, to a backup camera. Those infotainment systems have to have information coming to them to say hey, the vehicles in reverse now, I need to change this camera. And when some of those vehicles do that, they record those events. So you may be able to find out that a person left their house by backing out of their driveway at 8:02 AM and then drove down the road for six minutes until they got to the crash. It’s not a situation where they’re fatigued, because they just left home. Or you may get a situation where you may be able to find through those infotainment systems that you had a driver on the road for 14, 15 hours before a crash takes place. Whether the passenger vehicle with the infotainment system, or in a heavy truck with some of the engine control modules that you have in those vehicles.
David Craig: And it’s crazy, what people don’t know or realize is that these cars today have powerful computers. It’s really a computer in there, and people don’t think of it as a computer, but it’s a more powerful computer than the computers they were teaching us how to use a good 30 years ago when I first started. They didn’t have very powerful computers and only the big universities did. Now, you’ve got powerful computers in many of these new vehicles.
Kevin Johnson: In many of the vehicles themselves will have hard drives that are far bigger than what we had 10 years ago. So you’ll have multiple gigabit hard drives contained within an infotainment system in a passenger vehicle.
David Craig: Kevin, I really appreciate it. Again, I think knowledge is power, and I really hope that people can watch, listen, or read this and learn a little bit about reconstruction. They can learn what’s available and really what questions to ask. If you were telling somebody, hey look a victim of a wreck with a semi, and they were trying to figure out whether they’re lawyer was hiring the right type of reconstructionist what kind of questions would you tell them to ask. How would they ask questions on finding out whether their team, their lawyers are hiring the right people?
Kevin Johnson: I think one of the most important things about the reconstructionist involved is that you have to have experts that can communicate with you. You have to have experts that can explain things. As I used to say in some previous talks and things I give, you can have somebody like Albert Einstein, somebody just incredibly, incredibly smart, but if they cannot articulate that to the jury, then it’s not going to be helpful. So you need to have an expert that has the communication skills to be able to explain things to you as an attorney. I can’t explain something to you, or your expert can’t explain something to you, they certainly are not going to be able to pass those concepts onto the jury.
And the other things you have to look for with experts is just in terms of credentials. Do they have the training to be able to do all these things. Do they have the training, the heavy trucks? If you’re dealing with heavier trucks. And how’s their presence in the courtroom. Do they have a lot of cases under their belt where they testified and so forth? Or are they just getting started? Because usually the getting started type people are doing the car crashes, and then as you get more and more efficient and more and more effective through your training and everything else, you work your way up to the truck crashes.
David Craig: Again, I appreciate it. I agree with you. I think it’s important to have experts that are qualified, and experienced and have the knowledge. Same way with attorneys. I didn’t start off doing semi cases. Over the years, you learn how to do it, you learn how to try cases, and you have to be able to prepare your cases whether you’re on the defense or the plaintiff to go to trial. You have to have experts who can go to trial, and who can testify. I know that it’s one of the great things about your outfit, and you in particular is that both sides have used you not even at trial sometimes at mediations just to help educate the other side on what the evidence is. I think that’s very powerful. That says a lot.
Kevin Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. One of the other things that you have to make sure, just as anybody whether they’re lawyers or whether they’re experts is they have to know their limitations. You can’t have an expert just as me come into a situation, say, “This is how this road should have been designed.” I have no training in that, I have no expertise in that. I cannot come out there and say they should have built this road this way or something else. You want to make sure that your experts or your attorneys involved know their limitations and seek the proper expertise from others. So many times where I have questions in a case, I’ll go to the trucking experts, I’ll go to the civil engineers, I’ll go to those other people, guys and gals in the industry, and get that information from them. It will help educate me further, and then it will keep me out of trouble, because if we get involved as experts in cases that we really don’t have that expertise, then we get in trouble. We basically get to where judges say, “No, you can’t talk about this.” And it’s a blemish on you. And the same thing for attorneys is you get over your head on some of these cases and you can get in trouble as well.
David Craig: Yeah, and you see it where experts do overreach and they try to please the attorney by providing information, and I think that’s more damaging than helpful. And in addition, I think sometimes people think that lawyers are trying to shape the outcome, and shape the facts. And a good lawyer, their job is to win with whatever the facts are. We’re not trying to change them, we just want to know them, and we don’t want to be surprised by them down the road. And that’s why you have to have good reconstructionists, who are honest and straightforward, and straight shooters who can tell you sometimes you just have a bad case. I would much rather find that out in the beginning than two years later.
Kevin Johnson: And that’s where a lot of reconstructionists in our industry don’t understand, is you really want to know the good, bad and the ugly. Because you don’t want to invest time, effort into a case and then two years down the line you find out this is a bad fact pattern. Or something else is involved. You have to have people who will tell you where it is, the good, the bad the ugly, no matter whether you’re working for the defense side, the plaintiff side, explain the case to you, and then you get to decide what you want to do with that information.
David Craig: Fantastic. Again, this has been great. Kevin Johnson with Crash Consulting Services. I appreciate you taking the time.
Kevin Johnson: Thanks sir.
This is an edited transcript of the podcast, After the Crash with David Craig interviewing Kevin Johnson of Crash Consulting Services. If you’d like more information about David or Craig, Kelley & Faultless, please go to their website, ckflaw.com. Or if you’d like to talk to David, you can call 1-800-ASK-DAVID. If you would like a guide on what to do after a truck wreck, then pick up David’s book, Semitruck Wreck: A Guide for Victims and Their Families. This is available on Amazon, or you can download it for free on our website, ckflaw.com.