Driving outpaces guns as danger to law enforcement

Posted at 10:24 PM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-01 02:25:46-04

As Kenosha County Sheriff's deputy Andrea Mehring remembers the evening of Sept. 4, 2014 she did everything by the book.

With lights flashing and siren wailing, she made a perfect U-turn and rushed north on Green Bay Road.

The call to a burglary in progress allowed Mehring to cross even the intersections where she faced a red light, though her training meant she would need to come to a complete stop every time.

"It's about getting there. Because if you don't get there, you don't do anybody any good," Mehring said.

All that textbook emergency driving was useless when she came to 60th Street. That's when an inattentive driver came from her left.

Her airbags exploded. Both cars were sent spinning.

"I remember reaching down trying to find my mic to alert my dispatch I was just in a crash," she said.

Mehring was taken away in an ambulance, the victim of a concussion and some bad bruises.

The driver who hit Mehring was unhurt.

Records show he told investigators he was distracted by loud music in his car.

To police driving instructor Mike Bagin, that story is far too familiar.

"People need to pay attention. They need to know a green light is the offer of a right of way, not a guarantee," Bagin said.

Bagin teaches emergency driving to law enforcement through Waukesha County Technical College.

He said officers can't afford to have bad habits behind the wheel, considering the high percentage of time they spend in their squad cars.

"The biggest danger is driving. Roadway related incidents tend to be the number one cause of death for on-duty law enforcement," Bagin said.

As the I-TEAM discovered, that is something supported by the numbers.

From 2013 to 2016, law enforcement in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha and Ozaukee counties were involved in 94 crashes while "on emergency" and trying to cross an intersection.

In most cases, civilian drivers failed to yield the right of way.

But as the data revealed, even well-trained police can make mistakes.

In those 94 crashes, 82 people were hurt and one was killed.

Two of those injuries happened in Milwaukee on Oct. 13, 2015.

Both a Milwaukee Police officer and a civilian were hurt when they crashed at 20th and Chambers.

A review by MPD determined the officer did not slow down before entering the intersection.

For this he was suspended one day.

Mike Bagin could not talk specifically about the actions of any one officer, but he said failing to slow down at an intersection is wrong.

In West Allis, that error resulted in a death.

Elroy Brzycki was hit broadside at by a West Allis squad on March 26, 2014 while driving across Lincoln Avenue at 80th Street.

Dash camera video from the car driven by Officer Michael Dobschuetz shows him running to his car in what appears to be a hurry.

That rush continues as he weaves through side streets and on to Lincoln Avenue.

An analysis by the Wisconsin State Patrol shows Dobschuetz not only failed to slow at several intersections, he accelerated into the intersection where Elroy Brzycki was hit.

Dobschuetz sped up from 71 to 73 miles per hour one second before impact.

The day of the crash, West Allis Police said Dobschuetz was rushing to "investigate an accident."

But the police call log from that afternoon shows something far less serious.

According to the call log, a man on a bicycle bumped his tire into a parked car.

The cyclist was not injured.

The owner of the car he bumped insisted on calling police to ensure the incident was documented.

West Allis Police declined to answer questions about what happened, citing the potential for litigation.

In a statement, the department said Officer Dobschuetz was disciplined and re-trained.

In addition, the entire department was given a refresher on the rules for emergency driving.

For driving instructor Mike Bagin, lessons like that are a potential lifesaver for law enforcement.

With so much time at the wheel, officers can form bad habits.

Habits they cannot afford.

"Our bad habits can get us killed," he said.