WINSTON COUNTY – The Winston County Sheriff’s Office has started a new policy, which is quite rare for sheriff’s offices throughout the state, of not only responding to traffic accidents but actually investigating the accidents with minor injuries or property type vehicular accidents beginning April 1.
In the past, the sheriff’s office had primarily assisted at traffic accident scenes by handling traffic control or assisting Alabama State Troopers.
“We’ll be dispatched to the accident and eventually we’re going to work the ones with fatalities,” noted sheriff’s deputy Bryan Kirkpatrick. Presently, traffic accidents involving major injuries or fatalities are handled by troopers, Kirkpatrick said.
“Sometimes, the troopers are tied up in another county,” he said, noting sheriff’s officials responding to accidents will “speed the process up” and help the troopers. “We can respond quicker sometimes than a trooper can,” he said.
In order for sheriff’s officials to take on the role of working details of traffic accidents, Kirkpatrick will be trained in homicide investigation—a two week class mainly offered in Selma. “There are only certain troopers trained in it,” Kirkpatrick said.
Curtis Summerville, public information officer for the Quad Cities trooper post, said sheriff’s and police when attending the academy are trained on such basic traffic scene details as documenting information about the driver, vehicle, learning what caused the accident, drawing a diagram of the accident, interviewing witnesses, etc.
However, homicide investigations require specialty schools and very few officials receive this level of training, authorities said.
“Very rarely do sheriff’s departments investigate traffic crashes,” Summerville noted. “We have only one or two counties in the state of Alabama where sheriff’s departments handle traffic crashes.”
Once he receives the training, Kirkpatrick will be the only deputy in the county qualified to investigate an accident involving a major injury or fatality.
Beginning in March, the sheriff’s office began responding to work a few accidents, but the plan is for all deputies to soon be able to respond and investigate them.
“We don’t have that many fatalities in the county,” said Kirkpatrick. Municipalities will each respond and work accidents within their city limits. If an accident, however, is outside a particular city limits, the sheriff’s office will be the initial responding agency.
“We are not going to take away from any municipality,” he said. “We want to try to work with the troopers, us help, them out.”