RACINE — Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling emphasized the importance of drivers slowing down and moving over while passing emergency response vehicles, after three of his squad cars were hit by civilian drivers in the last month.
In the most recent incident, on Monday, a deputy was attending to a vehicle that had gone into a ditch off of Washington Avenue, just west of the interstate, when the stopped squad car was rear ended.
A deputy and his K-9 partner were inside the vehicle at the time of the collision. The deputy was transported to a hospital with minor injuries.
Both vehicles were heavily damaged, and the civilian driver was cited for Failure to Change Lanes While Passing a Stopped Emergency Vehicle.
"Our attention needs to be on the individuals we're talking to, rendering aid to, and we don't always have time to be looking over our shoulder," Schmaling said. "Especially on a fast moving interstate or highway system."
On Feb. 8, a different stopped Racine County Sheriff's Office squad car was rear ended on Burlington Bypass just west of Yahnke Road.
No one was hurt, as the two deputies on scene were working a traffic stop.
Schmaling said the impact of that collision totaled the vehicle and pushed it 20 feet forward.
"As you can imagine, this could've been a fatal situation," the Sheriff said.
The civilian driver was cited for Failure to Move Over for Stopped Emergency Vehicle and Inattentive Driving.
In a third incident, one of Schmaling's squad cars, also stopped, was hit by an inattentive driver on the interstate Jan. 15.
"All these could've been prevented," the sheriff said.
"The fact that, after all this, we had just one deputy with minor injuries," Schmaling said. "That, in my view, is a blessing."
He said all three collisions demonstrate the importance of paying attention behind the wheel, as well as slowing down and moving over to give law enforcement officers stopped on the shoulder some room to work.
"We're out here trying to help people. It's hard to do that when no one wants to help us," Schmaling said.
"If you see us out here, give us some space. I have no interest in burying one of my own staff," he said.
The driver in the third collision, on the intestate, was cited for Failure to Obey Traffic Officer's Signal/Order.
The sheriff requested that the Wisconsin State Patrol investigate all three crashes, since his own deputies had an interest in those investigations.