Investigation Report – KY Patrol Officer Drowning

Source: KY FACE

According to NIOSH, each day, between 12 to 13 U.S. workers die as a result of a traumatic injury on the job. Investigations conducted through the FACE program allow the identification of factors that contribute to these fatal injuries.

This information is used to develop comprehensive recommendations for preventing similar deaths.

The Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program recently investigated the drowning death of a patrol officer.

On Friday, March 2, 2018, at approximately 9:17 p.m., a police officer (the victim) was patrolling a road near the end of the city limits when he drove his vehicle into floodwater that had overtaken the road.

According to the report, the victim was a 45-year-old male police officer who was employed with the police department for five months. Prior to his employment, he served as an officer with another police department in a neighboring town for three and a half years. His regular work shift was 7:00 pm to 7:00 am.

The officer radioed dispatch that he had driven his 2015 Ford Explorer off the road and needed a tow truck. Dispatch stated the officer was calm as he made the initial request.

Two minutes later, at 9:19 p.m., the officer placed another call to dispatch, stating that his vehicle was sinking into the water very quickly and that he needed a rescue. The dispatcher stated the officer sounded panicked as he made the second request. A teenage witness who lived nearby stated he saw the officer climb onto the top of his vehicle and that the officer told him to stay back and not to enter the water.

Five minutes after the first call, the water completely submerged the vehicle. The witness stated he saw the officer jump from the top of the vehicle and into the water, but never saw him resurface.

Factors that may have contributed to the officer’s death:

  • At the time of the incident, the victim was wearing his duty belt that weighed approximately 30 lbs. and a Kevlar vest weighing approximately 10 lbs.
  • The shock of entering the cold water likely added to the difficulty of swimming against the current; and
  • It is likely the officer was unaware that the terrain he had entered quickly sloped downwards, creating a pool of water approximately 12-15 ft. deep.

Further factors were:

  • Weather;
  • Lack of physical barrier to flooded area;
  • Insufficient roadside lighting; and
  • Possible overdriving of the headlights.

When interviewed, the police chief stated he was not sure why the victim was in that area, since it had been flooded for several days due to heavy rain. The victim had worked the night before the incident from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and the chief felt sure that he was aware of the flooding in that area.

FACE investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences:

  • County road department should install a roadway sign that warns of quick flooding during rain and close the road as quickly as possible with temporary barricades;
  • City government should consider installing streetlights approaching the floodplain;
  • Employers should ensure each employee is aware of the roadway;
    areas that flood during the rainy season; and
  • Employees should never overdrive their vehicle’s headlights.