Is Anyone Left Behind?
By Randall C. Resch
Did you look inside?
In the world of total craziness, finding an injured, sleeping or deceased person in a car that's parked in your tow yard shouldn't be a normal happening, but it happens more times than you'd think. You take custody of the vehicle, load it up and head to your shop. In the process of off-loading the vehicle into your storage facility, you unexpectedly spy an injured person or a body that's inside the vehicle.
How could this have happened and who's to blame?
As a former police accident investigator and EMT, I've experienced the chaos of multi-vehicle accidents where patient extraction and their care is the main priority. With critical injuries and multiple victims, it's possible that a victim can (unintentionally) get left behind.
When vehicles are towed, law enforcement is tasked with writing impound forms and authorizations granting legal authority to tow or impound a vehicle. Part of the impound process requires that an inside-outside inventory is conducted of the vehicle. Appropriately, an inventory includes opening the vehicle's doors to have a look-see into the interior.
In several instances where deceased or injured persons were found inside towed vehicles (especially those in wrecks and recoveries), follow-up investigations stated that the deceased were located down on the floorboards and covered by deployed airbags. In many cases, victims were of small physical stature that wound up thrown onto the vehicle's floorboards during impact.
In one crash scenario, paramedics called a victim's friend whose phone number they found in the crashed vehicle The friend was told the victim would be taken to the local metro hospital. Relatives rushed to the hospital, but the victim never arrived. Somehow, the victim was overlooked and he was never removed from the vehicle.
While the process of vehicle inventory generally rests in the hands of the investigating officer, towers should be aware that any towed vehicle could contain a person or persons within. It's of the utmost importance to take time to look inside. As a prelude to towing any vehicle, towers should be aware that certain actions or crimes may have left a body within from homicides (often in the trunk), arson, over-the-embankment recoveries and accidents from frontal impact.
It's especially true of vehicles towed for private-property impounds where children are commonly left while mom or pop bounce to the corner convenience store.
Towers need to be aware that when accident vehicles are carrying unbelted drivers and passengers, they may be thrown forward and down to the floorboards when impact occurs. Especially at the passenger side-seat position and lower floorboards, here's an area that should be visually checked before any wrecked vehicle is loaded into the wheel-lift or onto the carrier.
While wearing appropriate heavy work or nitrile gloves, open the vehicle's doors, push back deployed airbags and carefully look into the dark crevasses where a person could conceivably be trapped. Be sure to wear safety goggles to prevent broken glass fragments getting into your eyes.
Remember, you're looking for a potential injured or deceased person; be ready for that shocking moment when you may come upon a victim still inside the vehicle you're about to tow or transport. In any event, you may save a person's life or at least bring closure to the family who's still looking for their missing loved one.Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, and is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame.