Maui police add 3-D technology to fatal car crash investigations

By Lila Fujimoto, Staff Writer (, The Maui News

MAALAEA — With the purchase of new equipment that can scan 1 million points a second to create a 3-D diagram, police traffic investigators are hoping to collect evidence more quickly at fatal crash scenes.

“This is unreal technology,” said Lt.William Gannon, commander of the police Traffic Section, who wrote the federal grant to secure $194,000 in funding for the Leica ScanStation P40 unit, accessories and training.

“What we have is a unit that’s going to provide us very accurate data with regard to a crash investigation,” Gannon said. “It’ll help reduce the amount of time it takes to gather evidence. This will help assist us in reducing the amount of time the road closures last.”

On Tuesday, police Vehicle Homicide Unit officers put the new technology to the test, returning to
the scene of a fatal crash that occurred in the early-morning hours Feb. 28 at Honoapiilani Highway
Maui police add 3-D technology to fatal car crash investigations.

The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Police Vehicle Homicide Unit officers Justin Mauliola (right) and Lawrence Becraft position the Leica
ScanStation as others watch during training to use the device Tuesday morning at Honoapiilani Highway and North Kihei Road.

Police said a 37-year-old Paia man was driving a pickup truck toward Wailuku on the highway when the truck veered off the road, hit a raised curb and went into a traffic signal pole. The truck continued toward Wailuku and hit another raised curb and the traffic signal pole at the intersection before ending up in the right-turn lane from North Kihei Road onto the highway, police said.

After being transported in critical life-threatening condition to Maui Memorial Medical Center, the driver died, police said. His front-seat passenger suffered minor injuries.

Police Vehicle Homicide Unit investigators responded to the crash scene shortly after the crash to identify gouges, tire marks and other evidence on the roadway and diagram and photograph the scene.

Going back to the area two days later on Tuesday morning, officers used the crash site as part of 80 hours of training to be certified to operate the new ScanStation. In about an hour, officers positioned the ScanStation, which weighs about 40 pounds, at different spots to take six scans of the crash site.

“We end up with a three-dimensional viewof the intersection,” said instructor Joel Salinas of Omaha, Neb.-based Collision Forensic Solutions. He is leading the two-week training for Traffic Section officers that began Monday.

Salinas said the technology was developed for surveying, but law enforcement officers have found it valuable in investigating traffic collisions.

Honolulu and Kauai police departments are already using the ScanStation, which can capture images at the rate of 1  million points a second, Salinas  said.

“People want it,” Salinas  said. “They like the amount of data it captures in a short amount of time. Funding it is the issue.”

Compared to the $50,000 cost of the robotic Total Station device that has been used to diagram traffic crash scenes, the ScanStation costs $123,000.

The Maui Police Department obtained funding for the ScanStation, as well as money for accessories and training, from a federal Department of Transportation Highway Safety Traffic Records Data grant, Gannon said.

He said the grant specifies that the equipment be used for the investigation of traffic crashes or other traffic-related matters.

Software would be used to morph the scans done Tuesday with data collected during the on-scene investigation done immediately after the crash to create a 3-D diagram of the scene, Gannon said. He said the 3-D diagram created Tuesday would be used for training only, not as evidence in the continuing investigation of the crash.

Glass debris littered the road in the turn lane and there were other remnants of the crash on the highway as officers used an iPad mini with Wi-Fi to remotely operate the ScanStation.

Officers also used a camera to take incremental high-quality still photographs that can be used along with the scan for verification and confirmation, Gannon said.

While traffic was flowing along Honoapiilani Highway and North Kihei Road during the training session, the intersection would be closed in an actual investigation of a fatal or near-fatal collision, Gannon said.

In such road closures, traffic investigators need an average of three hours to collect and document evidence at the scene. That doesn’t include the time the road may be closed before investigators and tow trucks reach the scene.

“It’s critical that we gather all the data we have at that time,”Gannon said. “Once you open the roadway, there’s no going back and identifying what was critical to the scene. You have to do everything right then and there.”

With the new ScanStation, “on a standard crash at an intersection, you can complete a scan within an hour to an hour and a half,” Gannon said.

But police still have to do the work to identify evidence at the scene and mark significant points with yellow chalk.

“This unit doesn’t take away the human element from the investigation,” Gannon said. “Our investigators still have to identify tire marks on the roadway and match those tire marks to the correct vehicle.

“You’ve got to refer back to the human element. That element is never going to be replaced.”

In addition to producing 3-D diagrams that could help in prosecution of a case, Gannon said the ScanStation can be used to determine the speed of a vehicle crushed in a collision. To do the calculation, a scan of the crushed vehicle would be compared with a scan of the same type of vehicle undamaged, he said.

“A lot of great benefits are going to come out of this unit,” Gannon said. “We are so looking forward to utilizing this tool in the field at our motor vehicle crash investigations.”