Lawyer debates validity of animated collision reconstruction
The question of whether to admit a computer animated reconstruction of a motor vehicle collision in the criminal trial of former Milford Policeman Jason Anderson is just one of a number of disagreements between State Attorney Kevin Lawlor and Attorney Hugh Keefe in the pre-trial phase at Milford Superior Court.
Anderson is facing manslaughter charges in the deaths of two Orange teenagers, David Servin and Ashlie Krakowski, who both died when Anderson’s cruiser struck the Mazda they were traveling in at 2:15 a.m. June 13, 2009, on the Boston Post Road.
A second cruiser, traveling just behind Anderson that night, had the dashboard video recorder running as Anderson’s vehicle was passing him at high speed and a few seconds later crashed into the teenagers’ vehicle as it was making a left turn at a red blinking light.
The state attorney on Thursday introduced Joseph J. Russo, a trooper with the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Squad, who investigated the accident scene the night of the collision. Based on the data he collected at the time, he prepared a computer animation of the seconds leading up to the impact, which he presented to Judge Denise Markle.
But Keefe objected to the computer animation, calling it “some fairytale Disney video.”
“It’s a plaything,” he said, “you order the intersection, you borrow from Google, you can turn the sunlight on — you can add and subtract things,” he said.
The result is nine segments of the same scene, viewed from different perspectives.
But the scene is not complete, as Keefe pointed out. It doesn’t show headlights and taillights of the vehicles, even when the dash camera shows Anderson braking just before the impact.
It doesn’t show all of the buildings or the street lights; it doesn’t show the lights in parking lots.
“The program has limitations,” Russo admitted. He said this was the first such animation he has worked on, and no such reconstruction has ever been entered in a trial as evidence. But it gives the jury a better sense of the speed the police car was traveling at, he said.
Three of the nine segments are “hypothetical segments,” as Lawlor calls them or “fantasy segments,” in Keefe’s words.
In these segments, the cruiser is going at 40 mph, the posted speed limit on the Boston Post Road. According to the animation, it would have allowed the Mazda to finish its turn in time before the police cars to pass the intersection.
“It shows that the defendant’s speed is the primary cause of this accident,’ Lawlor said.
Judge Markle is expected to rule on several pre-trial motions, including those related to admissible evidence and the trial location, before jury selection starts in the case Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at Milford Superior Court.