New camera provides valuable evidence in CHP crash

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

As pieces of shattered glass pelted him from all directions, Kip Hymas thought about his family.

He feared the worst.

The veteran California Highway Patrol officer had just been hit by an alleged drunken driver and his car was sliding sideways on Highway 70.

The right rear of his patrol car then struck a streetlight pole and began to spin the opposite direction as it skidded across both lanes of the highway.

“When I hit the pole and was covered with the glass, that’s when I thought ‘Ah man, I’m going to roll,’” Hymas said. “And then thoughts went into my mind about my family.”

In an instant, it was over. Hymas gathered his senses and got on the radio to report the situation.

“I’ve been involved in a couple of these before, but nothing of this magnitude,” Hymas said.

The crash happened just after 10 p.m. Aug. 25 at the intersection of highways 70 and 89 near Blairsden.

Hymas, a 17-year CHP veteran based in Quincy, was headed east to assist a sheriff’s deputy on a domestic disturbance call in Portola.

He was traveling at normal highway speed with no emergency lights flashing when a white 1994 GMC 1500 pickup in the westbound Highway 70 turn lane pulled in front of him.

Hymas had to react in an instant. The situation was complicated because there was another car on his right, stopped on Highway 89 preparing to turn left on Highway 70.

“I saw out of the corner of my eye the vehicle that was sitting at the intersection,” Hymas said. “So I knew I had a narrow window.”

As Hymas quickly guided his sedan to the right to avoid the turning pickup, the truck hit Hymas’ driver-side passenger door and sent his car spinning counterclockwise toward the light pole.

“Kip did an absolutely outstanding job,” Quincy Area Commander Bruce Carpenter said. “He did everything he could do to lessen the severity of the accident.

“I think that is indicative of the training our guys receive. He was able to protect himself, while at the same time protect the other drivers as much as possible.”

Had Hymas not reacted the way he did, all three drivers could have been seriously injured or killed.

Carpenter noted that 200 CHP officers have died in car crashes since the department was founded. “It’s just something that’s inherent,” he said.

Thanks to Hymas’ skill, no one was injured in this crash.

Despite witnessing the accident just a couple feet in front of his or her car, the driver not involved in the collision turned left on Highway 70 toward Quincy and drove away from the scene.

The CHP would still like to talk to the driver of that car.

“We have not heard a thing to this point,” Carpenter said. “We want it to be clear that this person is not in any kind of trouble. The person is just a witness. It’s just to help us completely cover all aspects of the investigation.”


Accident caught on camera



As recently as a few weeks ago, the investigation of this accident would have relied heavily on statements from Hymas and the pickup truck’s driver, who was arrested at the scene on DUI charges.

However, beginning Aug. 1, all of the local CHP patrol sedans were equipped with video cameras.

The Mobile Video/Audio Recording Systems (MVARS) were installed in 2,000 CHP vehicles statewide.

The MVARS recorded Hymas’ accident. The video showed the truck turning in front of the squad car and revealed in startling clarity just how Hymas was able to avoid a potentially fatal collision.

Hymas admitted he and many CHP officers were skeptical when the cameras were installed.

“I’ll tell ya, I wasn’t really thrilled about this camera system,” Hymas said. “But people have said ‘Man, it’s going to save you one of these times.’ And sure enough, I was glad to have the footage (of the accident). It backed up what I was saying about the events of the night.”


How the camera works

At the beginning of each shift, an officer inserts a blank disc into the MVARS of the car he will be driving. All of the video and audio is recorded on the disc, which is removed and placed into evidence at the end of each shift.

The officers wear a wireless microphone in their belts.

The system automatically begins to record video and audio when an officer turns on the vehicle’s red emergency lights used during traffic enforcement situations.

An officer can also manually turn on the MVARS during patrol.

The system is also automatically activated when a patrol car is involved in a collision. The MVARS backs up to capture the video beginning one minute before the impact. The audio begins at impact.

This is what happened during Hymas’ Aug. 25 collision.


Improved accountability

Officer Dana Eliason, who is one of three local CHP officers certified to train patrolmen on the MVARS, said the cameras provide many benefits.

“It enhances the officer safety and aids in the identification and capture of those who would harm an officer or a member of the public,” Eliason said.

Eliason added the camera naturally improves documentation of service provided by the CHP. Virtually all traffic stops are now recorded.

He said the recordings could be a training tool for new officers who can now review their procedures after traffic stops.

“I think the (MVARS) is going to be a very valuable tool,” Eliason said. “And it is going to take a lot of the guesswork out of it when it comes to addressing complaints (about officers).”

The MVARS is a credible tool for evidence.

Eliason noted that a study done by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that in misconduct cases, 93 percent of cases that were exonerated relied on MVARS evidence.


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