HAINES CITY, Fla. — A crash involving a police officer headed to a call totaled two vehicles and sent both drivers to the hospital.
But even though the accident report blames both drivers, the I-Team has learned the police officer was going more than 100 miles per hour on a busy state highway just seconds before impact.
Dashcam video from an approaching tractor-trailer shows the terrifying seconds when a speeding Haines City Police car crashed into a Toyota Corolla entering the highway, crossed into the opposite lane and narrowly missed hitting two pick-up trucks and an 18-wheeler head-on as auto parts fly in every direction.
Investigation found both drivers at fault
It happened on February 19 on Highway 17, one of Haines City’s busiest roads. The crash occurred shortly after 9 a.m., one of the busiest times of day.
The police officer was taken to Heart of Florida Hospital.
The other driver was rushed to Lakeland Regional.
Both drivers were cited, after a Polk County Sheriff’s Department investigator determined from dashcam and surveillance footage that the driver of the Toyota coasted through a stop sign before entering the highway.
But an accident reconstruction specialist who reviewed the crash for the I-Team says it was the officer’s actions that put the public most at risk.
“Once the vehicle is out of control, it’s out of control and you’re at the mercy of physics,” said Andy Levesque, a retired traffic homicide detective who now works as a driving coach and private accident investigator.
“This could have been devastation, complete devastation for both parties. An inch either way or a foot either way could have made a big difference,” Levesque said.
Disturbance involving juvenile led to priority response
A report prepared by a Polk County Sheriff’s Office traffic investigator says 46-year-old Christopher M. Jackson, a Haines City traffic enforcement officer, was responding to a priority call.
When asked the nature of the call, a department spokesperson said in an email:
"The call was classified as a disturbance. A 17-year-old with autism was banging on a door and about to break a window. He had no weapons, but was homicidal and making threats to law enforcement and others. There were no injuries. He was walking toward a business before walking back toward the reportee."
The report says that Jackson’s car was going 77.5 miles per hour at impact.
According to the report, Jackson had both his emergency lights and audible siren activated.
“It looks like it was a low-profile police car, meaning no roof lights, only inside the car and that reduces the visibility of the car,” said Levesque. “When you’re driving with your siren on, about 88 miles per hour, you’re outrunning your siren. People can’t hear.”
Black box data reveals high speed, no seat belt
The reason that’s important is that data obtained by the I-Team from the patrol car’s black box show he was going much faster just seconds earlier.
“Five seconds prior he was at 107. We don’t know what he was doing above that,” said Leveque, because that was all of the data available on the report.
That stretch of highway, which is lined on both sides by stores and offices, has a posted speed limit of 45 miles an hour.
Black boxes have been in the news lately.
The black box in Cameron Herrin’s Ford Mustang showed he was driving 80 miles an hour down Bayshore Blvd. Seconds before hitting and killing a mother and her one-year-old daughter, who were crossing the street.
Herrin was sentenced earlier this month to 24 years in prison.
The black box in Tiger Wood’s SUV showed he was driving 80 miles an hour on a 45-mile an hour road before running off the road, hitting a tree and overturning down an embankment.
A speed of 107 miles an hour translates to 156 feet per second. That means Officer Jackson’ s Dodge Charger would travel the length of a football field in about two seconds at that speed, giving him and the other driver very little time to react.
The black box report also shows Officer Jackson wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
“I can’t explain why the officer made that decision,” Levesque said. “Everybody’s wearing seatbelts today.”
Officer Jackson had driving issues in the past
The I-Team has learned Officer Jackson had driving issues in the past.
He was disciplined in 2016 after he was caught by a camera running a red light in his patrol vehicle.
In 2014, before joining the Haines City Police Department, Jackson was cited for careless driving after a crash in Marion county.
In 2012, he got a speeding ticket for driving 84 in a 70-mile an hour zone.
Jackson received traffic citations for driving too fast for conditions and a seatbelt violation in connection with his recent crash.
He is currently on administrative leave while his department completes an internal investigation on the incident.
The other driver, Diana Herrera Perez, was cited for a stop sign violation.
She declined our interview request, but said she suffered a broken arm and leg in the crash.
Levesque hopes Officer Jackson will learn an important lesson.
“As a cop, I want to get there are quickly as I can. But I have to remember that I can’t help those people if I don’t get there and now I’m tying up other resources because I just caused a mess,” Levesque said.
We contacted Officer Jackson about the incident, but he declined comment.
The department expects to complete its internal investigation in the near future.
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