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Mike Nowatzki, Published January 31 2009

Fargo police await data in fatal rut accident

Fargo police are waiting for data from onboard computers to complete their investigation of a Dec. 10 crash on South University Drive that killed an 8-year-old Fargo girl, Sgt. Ross Renner said.

The computers, known as event data recorders, are similar to the “black boxes” that record data on airplanes and trains.

Fargo police aren’t able to retrieve data from the recorders, so they were sent to an outside analyst, Renner said. He said he didn’t know when police will receive the data.

Wednesday marked seven weeks since the three-vehicle crash that resulted in the death of 8-year-old Amanda Leininger, who was riding in the back seat of a car being driven by her 15-year-old sister when it collided with oncoming traffic.

Mayor Dennis Walaker has said that, based on the initial report he received from police, the accident was caused by a rut where the roadway meets the shoulder on South University Drive near El Cano Drive.

Since the accident, several other drivers have said they lost control at the same site when their tires got caught in the rut and they had to crank the steering wheel to get out of it. One of those drivers was hit by oncoming traffic.

It’s not unprecedented for an accident investigation to take several weeks. The police report from a Sept. 16 crash on 25th Street South that killed a 20-year-old motorcyclist wasn’t released until seven weeks later, on Nov. 5.

“It all depends on what’s involved,” Renner said. “I mean, if they have to send stuff off to other organizations to be analyzed, we’re kind of at their timeline.”

Data recorders were first introduced by General Motors in select models in 1974, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Depending on the make and model, a recorder may monitor a vehicle’s speed, RPMs, brake lights, air bags and seat belts. It continuously records and erases information so that a record of the most recent eight-second period is always available, the NHTSA said.

If a crash occurs, the most recent eight-second period is saved in the device’s long-term memory. It also records up to six seconds of data relating to what happened after the start of the crash, such as when and how the air bags were deployed, the NHTSA said.

Roughly 64 percent of all 2005 model passenger vehicles had event data recorders, the NHTSA estimated.

The data collected differs depending on the vehicle, said North Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Craig Beedy of Jamestown, who does crash reconstruction. GM’s recorders tend to collect more data than Ford’s, he said.

The patrol uses the data to supplement information gathered through traditional crash reconstruction techniques.

“It’s just another tool we can use,” Beedy said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528