A couple of weeks ago Deb Westergaard and her husband Rob came before city council to explain what had happened when she was hit by a car in April of 2016 and seriously injured. Her treatment by Davis Police led her to file a citizen’s complaint which she believes was not properly handled.
The following is her account:
My name is Deb Westergaard. Last April, I was struck by a truck in the middle of the pedestrian crosswalk on F Street between the Playfields and Community Park. I was knocked unconscious and woke up in the ambulance en route to UCD Med Center. I suffered a skull fracture that penetrated my sinuses; serious road rash on my face, arms, legs, and neck; and my left ear was nearly ripped off. This photo was taken two days after the accident.
While in the trauma unit, a Davis Police officer called in and asked a total of three questions on the phone, relayed by my husband, while I was strapped to a backboard with a major head injury and after receiving pain medication. He then said he would come by the hospital to check my injuries and interview me further. He never did. After hearing nothing more, we followed up two days later, and were shocked to hear that the report was already done and found me to be at fault, saying that I created a hazard by being in the crosswalk and by running out in front of the truck.
Upon finally receiving a copy of the report, we found numerous errors, including a wildly incorrect and cursory diagram, and a conclusion that flew in the face of common sense. My husband promptly filed a citizen’s complaint at the encouragement of Bob Aaronson.
Five weeks after the accident, I was finally personally interviewed by Sergeant Rifredi as part of a supplemental investigation. We met at the crosswalk and I showed him where I got hit as well as describing my actions. He mentioned that he heard I was on a training run for a marathon that weekend. I replied, “Yes, and after 15 weeks of training, I wasn’t looking to take any chances with getting injured.” To my shock, he said, dismissively, “Yeah, I have friends that are marathon runners; they’re a bunch of risk takers.”
While asking me questions, he said that this re-investigation was a hardship on him. He also stated that he had “other more important things to spend his time on,” including two traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities so I should feel lucky that things didn’t end up that way for me.
It was at that moment I realized that the police had labeled me from the beginning of this accident based on what I was wearing and the activity I was doing. The entire investigation was focused on my actions, not the driver’s excessive speed or his inattention. Based on current events it appears that I am not the only person being labelled and profiled by the Davis Police.
The police department disrespected me, mistreated me, labeled me, and knowingly recorded incorrect information on the traffic report, including that the driver had auto insurance when he admitted on camera that he didn’t. When we challenged them, the police dug in their heels rather than admitting they made mistakes.
At the very least, the Davis Police Department owes me a heartfelt apology since they were wrong on many counts. In addition, they need to change the finding of this traffic and collision report to reflect the facts that they got wrong. Stubbornly sticking to their story is not helping their reputation with me, my family and everyone in town I’ve spoken with personally and professionally about my experience. Thank you for the opportunity to let me speak about this incident.”
Before anyone judges me: I stopped running, hit the flashing lights and checked traffic both ways before entering the crosswalk. North bound traffic had already stopped and I waved at them. The truck had just made the turn off of Covell and by the time I looked back he was at the crosswalk looking right at me passing in front of him. He was going at least 35-40mph (in a 25 zone) admitting on the TCR that he was “late returning back from lunch.
Rob Westergaard added the following…
I filed a citizen’s complaint with the Davis Police Department over their handling of this accident. Leading up to filing, Bob Aaronson (the police ombudsman/auditor) was very communicative. He even attended the meeting I had with Chief Pytel. After that, however, he fell silent and stopped responding to my e-mails when I said I was dissatisfied with the result, and asked what further route I had for my complaint. It appeared that there wasn’t one, so we found ourselves in front of the Davis City Council two weeks ago during the public comment period, hoping to catch their attention while discussions of police oversight are on the front burner.
If our experience is any indication, the Davis Police have a major attitude problem: labeling people and situations to suit their agenda, to support their narrative, and to make their jobs easier. The investigating officer attacked my integrity, accusing me of “changing my story” when I pointed out factual errors in his investigation. They closed ranks when I challenged their process. The sergeant who was in charge of the re-investigation implied his time was being wasted and called my wife a “risk-taker,” which was ironic, because he was limping around from a motorcycle accident.
When I told Chief Pytel that the original investigating officer had promised to visit the hospital but never did, his response was that the officer never should have said he would come to the hospital. When I debated how much time was enough time for a driver to react to seeing a pedestrian in a crosswalk, he cavalierly said that drivers have no legal obligation to slow down at all, even for someone halfway through a crosswalk. Overall, their handling of our complaint indicates a lot of dismissiveness and even contempt for the people of Davis. The police department’s job should be to protect the vulnerable, and I don’t see that happening here.
Every single person we’ve talked to about this accident has been incredulous that they said my wife was at fault, and this reflects very poorly on the judgement of the Davis Police. We spoke with several lawyers and found out we had a common experience: auto vs. bicycle or pedestrian accident reports in Davis disproportionately lay fault on the pedestrian.
Someone WILL get killed in that crosswalk. It was very nearly my wife last year, and nothing has changed since then to make it any safer. My wife is not a risk-taker. She was careful, and despite doing everything “right,” she was still hit. And to add insult to very real injury, she was blamed for the accident, while the driver who hit her was not even cited at the scene, and has faced no repercussions for his speeding and inattention.
Obviously, someone at the City of Davis knows there’s a pedestrian safety issue, because those “State Law” yield signs have cropped up in crosswalks all around town… EXCEPT where Deb was hit. Unfortunately, those signs are giving pedestrians a false sense of security. My wife and I have spent hours talking to parents, telling them of her experience along with the treatment we’ve received from the Davis Police. They are shocked at this outcome, and fearful for their children crossing that street. I hope the city addresses this before someone is killed.