4-mile closure, 5-hour backup: Followup #2 with Councilmember Rasmussen’s questions for SDOT and SPD; crash-investigation status

June 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm | In Safety, West Seattle news | 32 Comments

(SDOT screengrab from Tuesday, tweeted about 20 minutes after the crash)
Questions remain regarding Tuesday’s 5-hour closure of 4 miles of the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99 while Seattle Police investigated a head-on crash south of the West Seattle Bridge. Our first followup on Wednesday on some early answers – such as, that SPD is solely responsible for making road-closure decisions in cases like this, and believed this was the safest, fastest way to keep traffic away from the crash scene. Also in that first followup, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, the West Seattleite who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, told us he would be following up. He has just sent this to acting SDOT Director Goran Sparrman and acting SPD Chief Harry Bailey. Following the letter, you’ll also see the results of our latest inquiry with SPD. First, Rasmussen’s letter:

Many questions have been raised regarding Tuesday’s decision by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to close all southbound lanes and access to the Highway 99 Viaduct, from the northern end of the Battery Street Tunnel to the West Seattle Bridge. The closure was to investigate a car accident that occurred in the southbound lane at the intersection of East Marginal Way and S. Nevada Street at approximately 1:45 p.m. South of the Spokane Street Viaduct. The entire route was closed until about 7:00 PM.

I understand the importance of creating a safe site and undisturbed conditions to allow officers to conduct a thorough investigation of the automobile crash. However, there are lingering questions as to why this length of SR-99 remained close for so many hours when the accident occurred south of Spokane Street and there are exits from SR-99 at the West Seattle Bridge and at Atlantic Street.

Please provide the following information:

· Please tell us or forward to us the current protocol and procedures or multi-jurisdictional emergency plans that exists between SPD and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and any other entity such as the Washington Department of Transportation (WDSOT) or Metro for emergency incidents on SR-99.

· What contingency plans exist for closure of the Viaduct including detour routes when a closure is required or when there is an emergency on various points of SR-99 including the Viaduct?

· Who at SPD ordered the closure of SR-99? Who subsequently reviewed and concurred with the order to close the Viaduct?

· How often during the incident was the closure evaluated to determine if the entire length needed to remain closed? Who conducted that review and concurred with the continued closure?

· When was the closure decision shared with SDOT, METRO and other transportation agencies? What was there response?

· When was the Mayor informed of the closure? Who informed the Mayor?

· Please summarize and provide a timeline regarding communications between SDOT, METRO, WSDOT and SPD regarding incident and the closure of the Viaduct. Please identify the individuals who were communicating with each other regarding the closure.

· Why did the closure from Battery Street continue until approximately 7:00 PM?

· What consideration was given to allowing the use of the Viaduct up to the following exits:

o Atlantic Street for people choosing to exit near the stadiums

o The West Seattle Bridge – allowing people to go to West Seattle or to use the following alternative detour routes out of Seattle:

§ West Marginal Way SW
§ Delridge Way SW
§ 35th Ave SW

If it was decided that those exits would not be allowed to be opened please explain the reasoning.

This is the most recent of a number of incidents when the Viaduct had to be closed completely or in-part. Closure affects traffic throughout Seattle not just those who would use the viaduct. Closure nearly shuts down the City.

I am concerned that there does not appear to be a coordinated plan that allows an appropriate response to an emergency that also minimizes the significant disruption of transportation in the Seattle for many hours.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Thank you.

Tom Rasmussen
Chair, Transportation Committee
Seattle City Council

Shortly before receiving this, we had contacted SPD in hopes of getting more followup details about Tuesday’s crash. Officer Patrick Michaud in media relations replied that it is a criminal investigation but that they can’t release any new information:

While this remains an active investigation, I can tell you a few things. Having been through most of the Traffic collision classes offered by the state, these things take a long time to be finalized. The amount of math that is involved with a collision of this magnitude is mindboggling when it is finally laid out to see. Then there is the recreation of the scene in a computer, and even with the assistance of some fancy equipment, it still isn’t a quick process. Then there is the measuring of damage to the vehicles.

As you can see with just these three things there is a lot of work to do then you add into the mix that we have three injured people. Then we have to work with the hospitals to get all of the final information on extent of injuries which can take an extended period of time. We have all had that time when we sat in a waiting room waiting to be seen by a doctor, well, this is no different. They will triage the most important things (people) and the paperwork requests fall towards the bottom.

So to answer your questions, yes, work into this case continues. No the TCIS unit doesn’t do a preliminary report. Because as the evidence is evaluated, often their initial thoughts on scene evolve as we view the evidence. As this investigation had continued it is now a criminal case for vehicular assault. … (Editor’s note: The text of state law for vehicular assault was included at this point in the reply. You can read it here.)

…In all serious injury collision cases, we request blood to find out if any drugs or alcohol were used prior to the collision.

Also, because this is a criminal investigation and no one having been charged yet, we can’t release the names of the parties involved.

Because this was such a high profile incident I will be keeping in close contact with the case detective and getting updates out as I get them.

Initial reports were that one person, who had to be cut out of his vehicle by SFD, was in critical condition, one in serious condition, one in stable condition.

32 Comments

  1. A huge THANK YOU to Councilmember Rasmussen for delineating so precisely all the thoughts and questions that have been roaring through my own head. I too was a victim of this deplorable non-response to a traffic accident and, believe me, the 3.5 hours I spent in my idling car (trying to get from N. 205th Street to my home in West Seattle, including a mind-boggling stretch from Denny Way to Pioneer Square via 1st Avenue that took 90 minutes) gave me a lot of time to think about leadership issues in the city of Seattle. Looks like somebody just stepped up! Bravo, Mr. Rasmussen. You’re gonna get my vote.

    Comment by Sheila Gustafson — 12:21 pm June 13, 2014 #

  2. LOL on the cops’ response. In other words, “it’s a secret.”

    Note that there is heat about this solely because it dared to annoy a councilman (i.e., “a somebody.”) Barring that, it would be dismissed as “just the whining of scumbags.”

    Comment by PSPS — 12:54 pm June 13, 2014 #

  3. Thanks Obamacare, I just knew the traffic mess on Tuesday was your fault.

    Comment by mpento — 1:07 pm June 13, 2014 #

  4. Because, um, sometimes what the police learn is a secret until trial.

    Anyone remember the big ol’ blizzard we had back when Norm Rice had just taken over? We learned that the union had required the metro drivers to return to the base before they put chains on. We learned that the snow plows were stuck in the lot by the traffic because the forecast was off in the timing (rush hour) and severity of the storm. Many things were changed by the then new mayor. When ever you see a snow plow sitting out waiting to go to work, it is because of that storm.

    It will be interesting to see what our new mayor does about this. In the meantime – I just like to remember that there are still people that think we should tear down the viaduct and not replace it.

    Comment by curtis — 1:08 pm June 13, 2014 #

  5. Curtis…precisely..that was my first thought – life without the viaduct…

    Comment by JanS — 1:43 pm June 13, 2014 #

  6. The math is too hard?

    This entire country is screwed.

    Comment by Oh, that's a new one — 1:47 pm June 13, 2014 #

  7. Life without the viaduct may happen someday. Now imagine being stuck in the tunnel for three hours. Oh well, at least there will be large vertical Bertha repair air shafts every 1000 feet or so.

    Comment by Born on Alki — 1:55 pm June 13, 2014 #

  8. I still don’t understand how an investigation of an accident site can possibly take 5 hours. I would love to know what the timeline of the on-scene work during the closure is.

    Comment by jwright — 2:24 pm June 13, 2014 #

  9. What nobody seems to mention is that gridlock can be much more than an “inconvenience” to someone needing emergency assistance. Thanks to Mr. Rasmussen for pursuing this. It really does matter.

    Comment by Jerald — 2:28 pm June 13, 2014 #

  10. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen you missed one question – how many SPD officers were actually working this crash. And by working I don’t mean blocking roads I mean actively investigating and reconstructing the accident?

    Comment by KT — 3:19 pm June 13, 2014 #

  11. Unless our new mayor promises this won’t happen again I bet I know one of the campaign themes of the next mayoral race…

    Comment by Robert2715 — 3:39 pm June 13, 2014 #

  12. The police response is embarrassing. I’m not one to pick at writing ability, but you would think that a response such as this would be better written. I’m not prefect myself, however I’m not releasing responses that will be read by hundreds and thousands of people on a hot issue.

    The ‘difficult math,’ the recreation of the crash scene in a computer… does the crash scene need to rest idle while this is done? Can the investigators take overhead and 360-degree photos from a number of key locations, and then clear the scene? Why does the scene need to rest idle while investigators wait for the report from the hospital?

    Please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for holding irresponsible drivers accountable for their actions if this was one of those scenarios, however there might be a more efficient way to collect that data. I’m asking these questions honestly, and without the intent of pointing fingers. In my job, I’m critiqued on my results and efficiency, and I’m trying to look at this scenario through a similar lens. The injured are in my thoughts, I’m hoping for the best for them.

    Comment by Natalia — 4:29 pm June 13, 2014 #

  13. you know – reading these comments, it does make one wonder if there is any real comprehension as to the nature of the crime here. It appears that this was a vehicular assault that might very well be a homicide. This isn’t a case of an inconvenient flat tire. This happened because the police wanted to get everything right in order to convict the perpetrator and to make sure that s/he is held accountable at trial.

    Comment by curtis — 4:34 pm June 13, 2014 #

  14. Thank you Tom Rasmussen. I do not understand the thinking behind closing that much of 99 South. It seems to me they could have notified those of us on the highway that certain exit were open, but south of the west Seattle bridge 99 was closed and alternative routes (to Burien, White Center, Seatac) would have to be used. At least many of us trapped in grid-lock would have been off the highway and not adding to the complications.

    Comment by joan — 5:02 pm June 13, 2014 #

  15. SPD should be held accountable for their incompetence. This is a glaring example of absolutely no leadership at any level, particularly the top.

    .

    The incoming chief has her work cut out for her.

    Comment by West Seattle Hipster — 6:01 pm June 13, 2014 #

  16. Meanwhile SPD, at all levels, presumes the citizens completely support them in the field and their opposition to outsiders leading the sworn officers’ demands on the City Council governance.

    Perhaps DOJ should shadow our new Chief to ensure the eradication of very questionable suspect interaction policies supported by the rank and file (and especially union leaders).

    Comment by RayK — 7:12 pm June 13, 2014 #

  17. A good reason to rethink the number of exits in the tunnel.

    Comment by brandon — 7:26 pm June 13, 2014 #

  18. “Life without the viaduct may happen someday. Now imagine being stuck in the tunnel for three hours. Oh well, at least there will be large vertical Bertha repair air shafts every 1000 feet or so.”
    .
    vs. Jumping to your death from the Viaduct?

    Comment by Mike — 8:18 pm June 13, 2014 #

  19. Most of the posters here and also the SPD seem to be focusing on the accident scene and how to hurry the investigation along and what is happening in the investigation. These people are missing the point- if any one of us had been in this accident we would have wanted the investigation to be thorough. Who would begrudge somebody a proper investigation of their serious accident, even an investigation that takes 5-6 hours?

    What we need to focus on is the SPD closure of most of southbound 99 through the city. Closing the highway two (three, really) exits before the accident scene is simply indefensible. If they had closed the highway at the most reasonable place- the West Seattle Bridge- many people would have been inconvenienced. But imagine the number of people stuck in the backup that were intending to take the Atlantic, West Seattle Bridge or Harbor Island exits before the accident. Only the drivers intending to continue southbound on 99 would have been truly inconvenienced, and this would have been little more than a traffic footnote for the day.

    Instead, it has become yet another black mark on the SPD and has city council members asking tough questions, not to mention the social media storm. All that’s left to insure this incident lives on in infamy is a clever name. All the good ones are taken already- how about Marginalwayaccidentinvestigationpocalypse?

    Comment by valvashon — 8:33 pm June 13, 2014 #

  20. Born on Alki…. You hit the nail on the head. I guess the people who voted for that ridiculous tunnel have never been stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel.

    Comment by WTF — 9:50 pm June 13, 2014 #

  21. From 3rd & Broad to the aquarium on Tuesday was exactly one hour. There was also some emergency activity going on in front of Pier 55. After getting onto 1st Avenue there was no problem for me about 6pm. However, the only place there was any type of traffic enforcement/assistance was in front of Safeco which was going smoothly on its own. But, there were 6-8 law enforcement standing on corners and chatting. I wish they would have been in the gridlock on southbound Alaskan Way when the viaduct was feeding into it and all the intersections were blocked when the police cars tried to get to the emergency at Pier 55 to join the EMTs and fire truck already there. It was a long day for all of us and I agree we should have been able to get to the exits for West Seattle.

    Comment by Sandy — 11:29 pm June 13, 2014 #

  22. Hey Mike, I’d imagine by the time the tunnel is completed we should have those fancy Star Trek type transporters so they could just have Scotty “beam us up”.

    Comment by Rick — 7:06 am June 14, 2014 #

  23. Take a thousand pictures from every angle. Take video from atop, around, inside and underneath, and get the cars out of there! THEN start the investigation.

    It’s called technology – and it’s not very expensive – at least compared to the thousands upon thousands of hours lost in this mess.

    Maybe ala “bridgegate” we can calculate how many people died because their ambulance couldn’t reach them or get to a hospital as a result of this fiasco.

    Comment by Smitty — 7:08 am June 14, 2014 #

  24. WTF….My point exactly. At least you have a nice view from the viaduct. Regardless, the closure point was not thought out and I commend Mr. Rasmussen asking common sense questions. I understand the need for lengthy investigations of this nature, but to close the road for miles behind the accident is insane. One would think there is a road closure plan in place considering how much money and time this city spends on emergency prepardness. How many millions have been invested to the EOC? Losing faith fast with the current administration. Where is the common sense and duty to serve for the good of the people? Or should I say “scumbags”.

    Comment by Born on Alki — 7:33 am June 14, 2014 #

  25. Thank You Mr. Rasmussen for your efforts, your simple questions are exactly the questions I had while sitting in grid lock 4hrs from the north end of the aurora bridge to the stadium area. We have heard the SPD upper brass say the closer was protocol to preserving the accident area and keeping the investigators safe, keeping SFD personnel safe while attending to the crash victims (they were out in minutes) after the arrival of Fire units the was all done to protocol. I get that! but after all that is said and done there was no reason to keep the viaduct shut down. I simple statement from SPD brass that hey we screwed up, were sorry, and we will do better next time makes this story fade into a bad day in Seattle traffic, But for the Brass to say we had to do it that way, just deal with it is unacceptable and will not make this go away. I look forward to the days to come has officials have their feet held to the fire. Again Thank You Mr. Rasmussen!

    Comment by Kc — 8:10 am June 14, 2014 #

  26. the city needs a better policy to move traffic, period! even for normal rush hour or special events that clog the downtown corridor. for example they could have opened all lanes intersections/lanes going south/north for 10 minutes, then switched to east/west for 6 minutes (roads are shorter those directions). get traffic moving! if it takes a rocket scientist to figure this out, then hire one. and no one has mentioned the congestion caused by pedestrians. i sat at one light for 3 cycles because the flow of pedestrians wouldn’t let me turn. I suggest that during certain hours of the day you give the right of way back to cars.

    Comment by jeff — 8:11 am June 14, 2014 #

  27. Thanks Tom, good job. Can we expect a daylighted report and council hearing in the future on this?

    Comment by Leslie — 9:52 am June 14, 2014 #

  28. I could not have said it better than Valvashon..It was ridiculous to close 99 N of the tunnel

    Comment by Brad — 3:10 pm June 14, 2014 #

  29. nothing changes, glad I am retired and gone from that traffic mess I am now one less car to clog the roads from downtown to west seattle. I too would have been very upset sitting in traffic due to poor protocol or bad decision making, no sense pointing fingers…fix it!

    Comment by Bob formerly of west seattle — 4:25 pm June 14, 2014 #

  30. My thanks too Tom, will remember this come next election day. We WSeattle folk appreciate your action on this.

    Comment by cleows — 8:54 pm June 14, 2014 #

  31. I do feel sorry for those who absolutely had to use a private automobile for their commute that day and would be curious what percent caught in this jam actually fell into this category. Of the rest, those who could have used a commute method taking up less road real estate (bus, car/vanpool, walk, bike, watertaxi) but chose not to for their own convenience should search their conscience and take some of the blame for causing this serious hardship/endangerment and not just target the City. And a car driver blaming pedestrians for causing traffic jams (unless jaywalking)? Now that’s thinking with a sense of entitlement from inside the car-cocoon.

    Comment by Kathy — 10:37 am June 16, 2014 #

  32. How comforting to know the new Police Chief has lived with a road tunnel too. Perhaps she was in place during that dig too.

    When does she get to move into the big office and setup the personal photos? Will she be a sworn officer with a proper uniform for those special events when the brass shines brightly? She doesn’t need to wear a holster; she can carry a snub-nose 32 in her purse like female elected officers from my previous home town.

    Let’s direct some of this conversation thread to her to see if she will blindly back the rank, file, and chain of command or take this as a top sidebar issue with the larger effort to have DOJ back off.

    Perhaps SDOT or a private venture can be ready next time with a fleet of cargo bikes offering stranded motorists water; other cargo bikes could carry port-a-potties. Five hours is a long time to sit still!!!!

    Comment by Ray Krueger — 5:44 pm June 25, 2014 #

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