Troopers: Sumter officer not wearing seat belt before wreck - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Troopers: Sumter officer not wearing seat belt before deadly wreck

(Source: SC HIghway Patrol) (Source: SC HIghway Patrol)
(Source: SC HIghway Patrol) (Source: SC HIghway Patrol)
(Source: SC HIghway Patrol) (Source: SC HIghway Patrol)
(Source: SC HIghway Patrol) (Source: SC HIghway Patrol)
Charles "Chuck" Nesbitt Jr. (Source: Bullock Funeral Home) Charles "Chuck" Nesbitt Jr. (Source: Bullock Funeral Home)

BLYTHEWOOD, SC (WIS)- The Highway Patrol's Multi-disciplinary Accident Investigation Team has released its investigation into how a crash happened that killed 39-year-old Cpl. Charles "Chuck" Nesbitt Jr, a 10-year veteran of the Sumter Police Department.

The MAIT investigation showed that Nesbitt crossed the center line and slammed head-on into 43-year-old Michael Grundner's silver KIA sport utility vehicle. Troopers think Nesbitt had some sort of "medical event," and passed out before he crossed into the other lane. The coroner said there was nothing in Nesbitt's system that caused him to pass out.

The report shows that Nesbitt's patrol car's electronic data recorder, similar to a "black box" on airplanes, showed no sign of the officer braking or trying to avoid the crash, even though the report showed the officer in the passenger seat, Master Patrolman James Cox, tried to warn Nesbitt within seconds of the crash. 

The investigation showed that Grundner tried to avoid the crash after Troopers found the KIA's tire tracks on the right-side shoulder of the highway. Grundner, of Cassatt, was taken to the hospital and released. Grundner was able to talk to investigators but was unclear on how the accident happened. Troopers asked him if Nesbitt was passing a car. "It looked like he was, but then on the other hand, it just didn't look deliberate," said Grundner.

The crash happened Jan. 21 on Highway 521 near Boykin Mill Road around 3:00 p.m.  According to the Highway Patrol, Nesbitt's police car was traveling south and a silver Kia SUV was traveling north when the vehicles slammed into one another head-on. The crash happened within 500 yards of the Sumter-Kershaw County line, near the town of Rembert. 

911 calls and eye witness interviews revealed what happened at the crash scene. "Yes, I would like to report an accident," said one caller, "Apparently it involves a police car and a motorist, and they're both trapped in their cars."

One witness told investigators he saw the police car go airborne at the time of the collision.

Cox and Nesbitt were on their way back to Sumter after transporting a prisoner to the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia.

Medics took both men to KershawHealth in Camden, where doctors pronounced Nesbitt dead around 4:00 p.m. Cox was treated for his injuries and released.

Investigative records obtained by WIS News 10 said Nesbitt was not wearing a seat belt. "His airbag had deployed, and when we went into the ditch, he slumped over into my lap," said  Master Patrolman Cox.

"I tried to get him up off of me," said Master Patrolman Cox, "I unbuckled my seatbelt, got out. I tried to get some kind of response from him. When I got a response from him. He told me he couldn't breathe."

The Sumter Police Department issued a statement Thursday night about Nesbitt not wearing a seatbelt. "We don't really know what happened in those final moments of the crash. We hold ourselves to the standard of the law. This one incident serves as a reminder of the importance of seat belts. Our agency is fully aware of the importance of wearing seat belts."

The records contain contradictory information about whether Cox was buckled in. According to an audio report by Patrol Corp. Matthew Coffin, neither officer was restrained and "both seat belts were locked solidly in place." But in an interview with investigators Cox said immediately after the impact, he unbuckled his seat belt as he tried to help Nesbitt. 

On Jan. 26, hundreds of people attended Nesbitt's funeral in Sumter. The mourners included law enforcement officers, who traveled from all across the state to pay tribute to Sumter's first officer to die in the line of duty.

The Highway Patrol does not plan to file any charges in the crash.

Related stories:

Hundreds honor Sumter police officer killed in crash

Sumter officer dead after crash in police cruiser

Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved.

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