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Lance Cpl. John Nelson, a military policeman with the Combat Center’s Provost Marshal’s Office, hands paperwork to a Marine involved in an accident Nov. 11. The Accident Investigation branch of PMO determines fault and causes of accidents on and off the installation.

Photo by Lance Cpl. M.C. Nerl

Traffic investigators putting pieces together

20 Nov 2009 | Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl

The Combat Center’s Provost Marshal’s Office has a special crew of military policemen whose jobs are to investigate accidents and determine the causes and faults off and on  the installaion at any time.

“Our mission is to investigate traffic accidents involving military personnel, dependents or anyone on base in a traffic accident on the base or in the Hi-Desert area,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Stahl, the chief of the section and a native of Saugus, Calif.

“We only handle ones off base that involve serious damage or injury. For a fender bender we wouldn’t go out into town to investigate it. We’ve gone as far as Amboy [Calif.] and the [Amboy, Calif.] exit before.”

Stahl said the department keeps in touch with unit’s higher-ups for the active duty personnel involved in the accident as well as with local authorities.

“We notify the commands of the Marine or Marines involved with the accident to give them a full report of what went on,” he said. “We also compile material from our investigations with the [California Highway Patrol] or the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.”

Stahl described the process the investigators go through when they get to the scene.

“When we arrive at the accident, our first priority is to help out anyone injured,” he said. “We can try and care for them if the medical aid hasn’t arrived yet. We also prevent evidence on the road or in the vehicles from being destroyed before we gather it for our investigation.

“After all that is done, we use what we have to determine who is at fault and what circumstances lead to the accident,” he continued. “After we get all the facts in order, we make our reports to insurance companies, the Marine or Marines’ command and the local authorities if it was out in town.”

Stahl said the circumstances for traffic accidents can change depending on many variables.

“Causes of the accidents are different between those out in town and accidents aboard the base,” he said. “Off base, a lot of traffic accidents are caused by speed, fatigue and alcohol. People coming back from a long drive, drinking and driving or not obeying the traffic laws are what cause almost everything out in town.

“On base however, it’s a matter of careless drivers,” he said. “A lot of accidents caused here are because Marines don’t pay attention to the road when they’re on base. Those distractions are usually caused by the driver messing with the stereo or talking on a cell phone.”

Stahl said there is another problem more prevalent on the installation’s grounds than in the streets of the local area.

“Hit-and-runs are a big issue on base,” he said. “Usually those types of accidents are Marines backing into another vehicle and then just driving off.”

Stahl said it is a matter of honor, one of the core values Marines need to uphold when they have a traffic incident and don’t take the proper procedure.

“Marines need to remember that even if they hit another car and no one is in it, they need to stay where they are and contact PMO,” he said. “It’s the best way to resolve that situation instead of just disappearing from the scene.”

Stahl said the investigations section, as well as local authorities are constantly taking steps to reduce the probability of accidents inside and outside the gates.

“We give safety and traffic awareness classes and briefs to all the Marines on base before holidays and on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s part of what PMO does, and we’ll be doing more [driving under the influence] checkpoints on base. The local police will also be increasing their number of checkpoints off-base as well, to help get drunk drivers off the road or discourage them.”

One of Stahl’s Marines, Cpl. Brett Wolff, an accident investigator from Columbus, Neb., described how he feels about his occupation and one of his more unique cases.

“I like it, it’s pretty interesting,” Wolff said. “One strange case I did was when there were two drunken Marines driving off base. One of them was so drunk he fell asleep at the wheel and collided with the other one. That’s not something you see all the time.”

Many Marines aboard the Combat Center have been involved in regular accidents like Cpl. Chad Bloomquist, an optics technician with Company D, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

“I remember when I got hit about a year and a half ago,” said the Rome, N.Y., native. “I just saw the guys taking statements, pictures and getting all our information.

“They really helped me out,” he added. “I knew I didn’t cause the accident, and now, thanks to them, the insurance companies do too.”

The Accident Investigation section at PMO shows no sign of slowing down their round-the-clock duties. To report an accident, always remember to dial 911 for off-base emergencies, 830-3333 for incidents on base, or 830-6800 for non-emergencies.

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