New laser scanners speed up crash investigations

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Most drivers have been there before -- stuck behind a serious crash site, or delayed by a detour around it, wondering why authorities haven't opened the road yet.

"We always ask people to think, what if it were your loved one? You'd want them to have a few hours of inconveniencing someone to make sure that the story was told," said Lt. Greg Goreck, with the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

When Goreck started in traffic investigations a decade ago, telling that story took a lot longer.

"We got out there with a regular tape measure or a roller wheel, and we're capturing all these points, and we're measuring from all these baselines," Goreck said. "That is a long, tedious process that is hours upon hours upon hours."

Technology has greatly improved since then, but thanks to new laser scanners purchased a couple months ago, investigators are really cutting to the chase. The scanners cost the Sheriff's Office about $100,000, according to Goreck, and that's using money seized from criminals.

Not only does the equipment set up easily, it collects a wealth of information in a 360-degree scan that can take only a matter of minutes. The scanners are also being used to analyze and document crime scenes.

"They are able to measure, take color photographs, and give you up to 330 yards of data per scan," Goreck said. "You can never have too much information. It's always better to have more than less."

"The opportunity is out there to capture what, maybe at first, you don't realize is evidence, but then you come back later and go, 'I needed that'."

Of course that means scenes can potentially clear quicker.

But it's not just about speed, it's also about quality. By coupling the scanners and special software, investigators can document crash sites in great detail and in 3-D, right down to the last oil spot on the asphalt.

Software helps speed up calculations, too.

"It would actually measure the crush damage, the crushing impact from two vehicles crashing into each other or if a vehicle hit a telephone pole, and it would do all the measuring and formulas from this data," Goreck said.

Animated recreations that once took more than a month to complete can also be done the same day.

"We work, on average -- serious bodily injury crashes -- 80 to 100 a year," Goreck said. "So this is definitely going to make a better product, not only for the victims, but their families. Sometimes, we're the only ones who could speak for that person who's deceased so their family gets an accurate portrayal."