By on January 13, 2012

Talk about adding (mild) insult to (even milder) injury. Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray was recently fined $555 for causing a single-vehicle crash. The single vehicle was his own. The circumstances are almost too bizarre to be believed — and the jury is still out on what actually happened.

Mr. Murray was driving every sensible TTAC reader’s dream car: a government-provided 2007 Crown Victoria. We don’t know if it was the P71 Police Interceptor or the P72 Taxi/Commerical (often sold on eBay as the “P72 Undercover Package”) model, but either way… it was awesome.

“Black box” data released by Massachusetts State Police indicate that, in the 20 seconds before the crash, Mr. Murray accelerated to 108 miles per hour then drove off the road, flew through the air, and struck a rock ledge at 92MPH. He was not wearing a seatbelt. To the surprise of no one familiar with the extraordinary capabilities of the Panther platform, the lieutenant governor was more or less unharmed. Transitory g-forces experienced by the Vic exceeded 40g, which is what we call “serious bizness” in the auto safety bizness, which itself is quite serious.

Before someone told him that there was such a thing as a “black box”, Mr. Murray blamed the accident on “black ice”. AC/DC, the band which released Black Ice in 2008, had no comment. After said data was released and reviewed, Mr. Murray said he “accepted” the theory put forth by state police — that he had fallen asleep behind the wheel and merrily careened through the air into solid rock, safe as a baby in the arms of Ford’s mightiest full-sized vehicle — and, in fact, wanted to pay the $555 fine immediately. Presumably, something was said about “moving on”, which is what people always say when they’ve done something they would simply bury yo’ ass for doing if they caught you doing it.

Not so fast, Lieutenant Governor! James Verhasselt of the Accident Analysis Group of Northampton told the Daily Hamsphire Gazette that

I don’t see evidence here of someone asleep… I don’t see anything to support that theory.

The Gazette notes

What’s puzzling to accident reconstruction experts like the Accident Analysis Group of Northampton is that someone who falls asleep at the wheel is not likely to be hitting the gas pedal with some force, which Murray’s car data shows occurred twice in 10 seconds leading up to the crash, including the flooring of the gas pedal at around 95 mph about five seconds before impact.

“How can you fall asleep and willfully hit the gas pedal twice?” asked chief analyst David Pesuit.

Obviously that Black Ice record rocks so hard it makes you jam the throttle in your sleep. A second consulting firm also offered a dissenting opinion:

Bruce McNally, an accident reconstruction expert from McNally & Associates in New Hampshire, also reviewed the black box data on behalf of the Boston Herald and told that newspaper the evidence suggests Murray was not sleeping at the time he wrecked the Crown Victoria.

“Just a couple seconds before losing control, he floors it,” McNally told the Herald in a story this week. “That’s not typical of a driver who falls asleep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it occur. A typical driver who falls asleep, their foot would come off the pedal.”

Take it up with Angus Young, Mr. McNally. Thank God the Lieutenant Governor wasn’t listening to Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap, as he probably would have blasted his Crown Vic to 130mph or beyond, briefly achieved low Earth orbit off a conveniently placed “Dukes of Hazzard” dirt ramp, and struck the rock face hard enough to knock some sense into his head.

It’s worth noting that the state police released the black box data at Mr. Murray’s request, probably because he was tired of emailing it to people so they could see how cool the whole thing had been. “I recognize,” he said in a press conference last week, “I should have been more careful.” Here at TTAC, we would like to suggest that Mr. Murray be given a Dodge Charger fleet car next, just to prevent any more pressure on the already-dwindling population of Panthers in Massachusetts.

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57 Comments on “What Kind Of Car Hits A Rock Wall At 92MPH And Lets The Driver Walk Away? You Know The Answer...”


  • avatar
    John

    Sudden acceleration and deliberately hitting stone/concrete is usually a suicide attempt. Most life insurance will not pay for suicide but will pay for auto “accidents”. People (usually men), often commit suicide this way so their family can collect on their life insurance. People who attempt suicide in this manner usually do not wear their seat belt to increase their chances of death.

    • 0 avatar
      yesthatsteve

      Suicide attempt was my immediate thought, as well. Insurance payouts are highly state dependent – where I live the burden’s on the insurance company to prove you were suicidal when you took the policy out.

      High speed, acceleration seconds before impact, no seatbelt, party involved wanting to avoid scrutiny. Unless he had a female companion between himself and the steering wheel, it all points to suicide.

    • 0 avatar
      TexasAg03

      Some life insurance policies have a time limit on suicides. For instance, I have two life policies with Farm Bureau that will still pay in full for suicide as long as it’s not within the first two years of the policy. The thinking is that no one plans a suicide 2+ years in advance.

  • avatar

    Those Crown Victorias are serious bizness.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    God knows what would have happened if “Radar Love” was on the radio at the time.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    Yaah, seriouas bi’ness. He was sober, right? hahaha

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      The guy asked for and passed a sobriety test at the scene. Apparently the accident knocked just enough sense into him to realize that people would be “suggesting” alcohol as a factor and that it would be smart to quash that line of attack before it could start.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Based on the numbers given here, it certainly makes no sense. 95 to 108 mph in 5 seconds? Pretty quick for a barge like a Crown Vic. Second, how was the speed of impact determined as 92 mph? The wheels have to be on the ground to get a true speed reading from the system. Third, 40g is quite low and survivable, which either means it was a glancing blow, or the actual speed was much lower, and the wheels were spinning in the air.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      @wmba….do you have a reference that “40g is low and quite survivable”? 92mph into a solid object is the same as 2 cars each traveling at 46mph hitting head on….yes, survivable with the airbags, but hardly a “glancing blow”.

      with respect to how fast the speed of impact was…modern accelerometers (or in this case, decelerometers, I suppose) can record and interpolate impact speed by speed of sudden deceleration….

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        A 92 mph crash square into an immovable wall is the same as two cars traveling at 92 hitting each other, not 46 mph.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        @ Mark MacInnis: You can check articles such as “g force” on Wikipedia, where they list humans surviving over 100 g for brief decelerations.

        I looked for more articles on this crash, and apparently, in this case it must have been a glancing blow, which caused the car to flip and take several hundred feet to stop. The 40g measured by the black box would be the front air bag sensor in all likelihood, since that is around the bumper area, and the deceleration inside the vehicle will be less due to crumple zones. Then taking several hundred feet to stop also means that there was no secondary hard impact, luckily for the lieutenant-governor.

        Just as more pure speculation, and as a preemptive warning for Panther pilots feeling invincible, A Crown Vic hitting a solid rockface at 92 mph would still have a pristine trunk, but little else would look original. That’s my guess, anyway, not that the result with any other vehicle would necessarily be better. A totaled vehicle is a totaled vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        “The 40g measured by the black box would be the front air bag sensor in all likelihood, since that is around the bumper area, and the deceleration inside the vehicle will be less due to crumple zones.”

        When I worked in the auto industry all the airbag accelerometers were located in the center console, as close to the passengers as possible. But we never (to my knowledge) were a supplier to Ford, so I have no idea where they put theirs.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          it all depends on the event horizon. 40g’s at impact is survivable if a large portion of that force is dissipated prior to it reaching the person in the vehicle.
          Our internal organs cannot survive more than the equivalent of 20 mph sudden deceleration.

  • avatar
    John

    Undoubtedly the air bag saved him. Otherwise he would have been ejected through the front window and suffered brain trauma and/or a broken neck when his head struck the rock. This points out that air bags are SUPPLEMENTAL restraint systems. Front air bags provide very little protection if a seat belt is worn, and often cause eye and burn injuries. More than half of men who attempt suicide are drunk at the time, and ashamed of their failed attempt, therefore his avoidance of the truth.

    • 0 avatar
      rodface

      “Front air bags provide very little protection if a seat belt is worn…”

      I take this to mean that whatever protection is afforded by airbags is rendered unnecessary by a properly worn seatbelt, causing the side effects of airbag deployment (burns, etc.) to be their only “contribution”. Did I understand correctly?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Yes and no.

        Today the airbags and seatbelts are an integrated system. The seatbelts have more stretch in them, and the airbag system typically knows whether the belt is buckled or not. If the belt isn’t buckled, the bag blows with a bunch more force. If the belt is buckled, the stretch reduces injury from the belt itself, while the de-powered airbag still keeps you from eating the steering wheel.

        The very best systems take the wieght of the seat occupant and seat position into condideration when determining how hard to blow the bag. Keeps from taking the head off the 80lb little old lady sitting 3″ from the wheel.

        The really high-end safety systems even use data from the stability control system to get the car ready for a crash. A big Benz (and probably all the other expensive Germans) will actually move your seat into an ideal position and close the windows and sunroof if it thinks there is a likelyhood that you are about to rearrange some roadside scenery. Frankly, THIS sort of thing is what really seperates a $20-30K car from a $40-50K and up car these days, more than the “toys” you can see and play with.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “Mr. Murray was driving every sensible TTAC reader’s dream car: a government-provided 2007 Crown Victoria”

    Nah, it’s Commodore or Falcon for me, or a 96 Caprice/Cutlass Cruiser.

    Actually, I stopped dreaming. These Aussie things don’t have the floatiness of the American cars. Now I have to get used to driving an auto after 16 years on manual only.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    The black box is a real tattletale. The original boxes only recorded 5 seconds of data and were very limited. All that’s missing is video and audio from the cabin. Perhaps Onstar does audio as well.
    Jon MF Corezine’s driver claimed to be doing 65 until the BB showed him traveling at 92.
    What a shame we don’t have BB for more aspects of politicians actions.

  • avatar
    unartisticinc

    Maybe he fell asleep momentarily and intended to brake upon opening his eyes… but this is actually a case of unintended acceleration wherein he hit the wrong pedal. Forget panther, he needs a Prius.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      You’re not serious, right?

    • 0 avatar

      I had a terrifying experience a couple of years ago on some parkway in the Catskills (Bald Mountain? Is there such a thing?). I was in a minivan and I hadn’t driven an automatic for years, when I came up on someone moving well under the speed limit around a tight curve.

      My first reaction was to jam my left foot to the floor, trying to engage the clutch, because I didn’t want to stall. Well, no clutch pedal there, just floor. Simultaneously, I blipped the revs for my downshift and nearly slammed into the back of the other car before I got my act together and hit the brakes. Scary as hell.

      So that’s probably what happened.

      On second thought, I like the suicide theory.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      Probably the floor mat. The only car I’ve ever had unintended acceleration in was a Grand Marquis on a test drive, where, under light braking, the floor mat wedged in the gas peddle. He should have opted for the twist tie. (Written in the same spirit as the replied-to comment…)

  • avatar
    dvdlgh

    not typical = it’s possible

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Body on frame FTW! But then I hear the next Dodge pickup will by unibody?

  • avatar
    Feds

    That guy in the picture looks a lot like the dude who plays Sam Hanna in NCIS LA.

    Presumably, something was said about “moving on”, which is what people always say when they’ve done something they would simply bury yo’ ass for doing if they caught you doing it.

    Much like my former Attorney General, who created an “Anti street racing law” giving the police power to seize your car if you so much as squeal a tire, then went on to squish a bicyclist between the side of his Saab and a fire hydrant. He also “moved on” into a newly created arms-length government agency.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    “Just a couple seconds before losing control, he floors it,” McNally told the Herald in a story this week. “That’s not typical of a driver who falls asleep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it occur. A typical driver who falls asleep, their foot would come off the pedal.”

    O RLY?

  • avatar
    Hank

    This is how you launch a career for the US senate in Massachusetts.

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      No, you can do this in Mass. only AFTER you get elected to the US Senate.

      Only then can you drive off a bridge into the water with someone in the car and have the ability to swim 500 feet across a channel so you could crash in your hote room.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Note how the accident reconstruction experts use the words; not likely, suggests, not typical, A typical driver.

    So the “experts” are all covering their rear ends too. The black box doesn’t give them any concrete proof that he did or didn’t fall asleep or else they would just come out and say it.

    I use words like; maybe, could be, possibly, when I don’t have 100% confidence in an analysis just to cover my behind.

    The guy might get a stiff leg when he falls asleep. I do too!

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    To make the story even stranger, the time of the accident, I believe, was around 5:00 AM. Murray claimed that he woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so decided to go out for coffee and a newspaper and to survey storm damage from an early winter ice/snow storm. (He presumably intended to do this from an interstate.) The State Police were quick to “explain” what had happened, namely that Murray had likely fallen asleep at the wheel. The entire narrative, as constructed, seems most dubious to anyone who knows cars (or people).

    • 0 avatar

      he woke up around 2AM and went out.

      I dont’ think Murray was suicidal. I just don’t think a successful guy like him, with a nice family, would have had any reason to be suicidal, and that if he did have some shenanigans going on–corruption, or an affair–that might make him suicidal, it would have come out by now. I think it is somewhat of a freak accident in the manner described below by Passive or Chaparral, where he tried to hit the brake and hit the gas instead.

      • 0 avatar
        toxicroach

        People kill themselves for stupid reasons all the time.

        I’ve read that all the survivors who tried to jump off the golden gate bridge immediately regretted it once they jumped. All the problems they thought were unsolvable seemed pretty trivial once they were airborne. If it was a suicide attempt hopefully he realized his problems weren’t so bad right before he hit the wall.

      • 0 avatar
        chaparral

        Yeah, my opinion is that this is simply a story of temporary or general ineptitude behind the wheel. He needs to make a minor news story over going to F1 Outdoors or Oakland Valley for go-kart school, and then write a complete article and description once the investigation’s over.

  • avatar
    cc-rider

    Thanks for the great story. The AC/DC references are priceless!

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    The sci fi short story “The Road” (I think that’s the title, read it 30 years ago) says that the cars are stationary and the road moves, thus the landscape accelerates, turns, bends the road and the rock wall jumped in front of the car in an attempt to kill a driver who gets complacent about steering.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      “Direction of the Road,” by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1973. It was actually the viewpoint of an old tree who was asked to do too much when a car swerves at high speed, but the buildup from its early days of matching the world’s pace to people walking and riding horses past to the climactic crash scene still gives me a wonderful perspective shift when I’m out walking or cycling around.

  • avatar
    lw

    This is clearly the case of the “Black Dog”. Pay the fine, rescue your daughter and live happily ever after!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120610/

  • avatar
    passive

    About 3 years ago, I flew to Toronto around 6 AM, after about an hour of sleep. I drove a rental car up the 401, which was packed, and moving at about 15kms/hour.
    I nodded off for a few seconds, and found myself just about to rear-end a guy. So I jammed the brake… except it wasn’t the brake.
    So to me, it makes perfect sense that if this guy nodded off at the wheel, he might have woken up, noticed he was going off the road, and tried to hit the brakes.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Disclaimer: I may not be totally unbiased. Tim Murray used to be the mayor of my city and did a good enough job at it to earn the Lt. Gov. spot.

    Does the black box record the speed of the front tires, or the rear ones? If it is picking up the rear tires, any total loss of traction will allow rapid acceleration of the rear wheels to the maximum governed speed. This covers the initial don’t-say-anything-that-admits-liability excuse of “black ice” and would also give credit to any explanation where the rear tires left the road.

    I have driven the entire length of I-190 many times, including going well over 100 MPH past where Murray crashed on many occasions. There are viaducts and crests that are unprotected from wind gusts, which can destabilize the car. Up in Sterling, the paved shoulders are painted Boston Celtics green. They will be as slippery as snot if they’re wet or have frost on them. High speeds are nothing new on that road; it is wide, and it connects Worcester to Fitchburg. There’s not much in Fitchburg that someone in Worcester would want to get to.

    All in all, it’s been a slow news year in Massachusetts aside from the weather, so it’s not surprising that there was some consternation when a state official crashed at a hundred miles per hour. Bear in mind that every insurance company tells you not to give a full explanation admitting liability until the investigation is done. I suspect that Mr. Murray will soon be able to give the full story; there’s nobody else that could be blamed for it and $9000 is not a large amount of money for either him or the state. Why not have him write a column about the wreck when he’s able to tell the whole truth?

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Good point questioning where the black box measures wheel speed. If it is the rear wheels, that would make the black ice explanation quite believable.

      Unfortunately, MA officials have created a climate where the knee jerk reaction is to assume state officials are up to no good when something like this happens. Murray’s explanation for why he was on the road doesn’t help. Sterling is about 20 miles north of his home in Worcester. Who drives that far for coffee and a newspaper? Surveying storm damage from an interstate? Can’t he just ask the DPW about the conditions the plow drivers see?

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      My guess is that a speed reading would be it would be from the transmission as that would be the most reliable/accurate. Nut being that they have ABS, in theory a speed reading could come from the ABS sensor.

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    I read this story when it first broke on the Drudge… he claimed he was headed out to observe road clearing operations… at 4 AM after a snowfall. The article’s author suggested he was on his way to be somewhere he should not have been, lends credence to the theory there was a woman involved. Maybe there was one in between he and the wheel who didn’t make it, and was conveniently handled later? Ah the stuff of Hollywood.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I can appreciate that the suicide angle seems obvious, given the account of one news story.

    But the crash also has the ingredients of unintended acceleration:

    -Driver intends to hit the brakes, but hits the accelerator instead

    -Car responds to braking attempt by increasing speed, since that’s what depressing the accelerator is supposed to do

    -Driver panics because brakes appear to be failing, since the car is going faster than it was before, instead of stopping.

    -Driver responds by hitting the accelerator again, again confusing it with the brake pedal. Of course, the car responds to this subsequent braking attempt by accelerating even more.

    -And so on.

    That being said, none of us here have enough information to reach any definitive conclusions. But it is surprising that an accident investigation firm wouldn’t know that unintended acceleration incidents typically involve a car that accelerates without any braking whatsoever.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    “Thank God the Lieutenant Governor wasn’t listening to Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap, as he probably would have blasted his Crown Vic to 130mph or beyond”

    awesome.

  • avatar
    BlackDynamiteOnline

    They put Cool J’s cover on the post because……..they really like Cool J!
    BD

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Jack’s retelling of this incident is a bit more dramatic than every account I have read in other news sources. In the story told by the state police, Murray lost control of the car, then hit a rock ledge and rolled twice. I’ve also read conflicting reports of whether or not Murray was wearing a seat belt, though most stories agree he was not.

    Jack makes it sound like Murray launched the car into the air and then hit a sheer rock wall at a 90-degree angle. I don’t think anyone escapes an accident like that unharmed, in any road car. Details of the crash aside, the story is still an impressive testament to the panther’s safety.

  • avatar

    I want to know what AC/DC thinks of this!

  • avatar
    BoredOOMM

    Gets up at 4:45 for “coffee and a newspaper” Takes instead a 42.5 mile drive AFTER A SNOWSTORM at 100mph… what a hack!

    “The lieutenant governor was issued a $555 ticket and has promised to reimburse the state for the full cost of the vehicle, a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria sedan” (No dealer markup either)

  • avatar
    AJ

    Talk about not being his time.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    BOF FTW! After taking several harrowing railroad track “Dukes of Hazard” style jumps in high school (idiot hs seniors driving) I would suggest that he was likely listing to “Big Balls.”

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