The collision that caused the death of State Patrol motorcycle Trooper Sean O’Connell in May was a “tragic accident” that resulted from “a combination of circumstances,” according to a preliminary investigation by the State Patrol.
“There was no one single cause for this tragedy,” Capt. Charles LeBlanc, commander of the Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division, wrote in a news release.
LeBlanc said Monday that the investigation has not been closed and that the agency still plans to reconstruct the Skagit County collision, but that no criminal charges or citations are expected.
The veteran motorcycle trooper was patrolling a traffic backup caused by the detour around the collapsed Skagit River bridge on May 31 when he was fatally injured.
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The State Patrol investigators said O’Connell was passing a box truck on the right shoulder, outside of the fog line, when the truck made a right turn.
O’Connell, 38, struck the truck and was thrown from his motorcycle and fell under the truck, according to LeBlanc.
Investigators said the truck driver did not see O’Connell.
According to the State Patrol, O’Connell was not using his emergency lights and siren at the time of the collision.
LeBlanc said motorcycle troopers are trained to pass on the right, when necessary, without their lights and sirens. He said activating lights and siren can cause drivers to pull over to the right.
“The reason we have motorcycles is precisely because they can maneuver around traffic,” LeBlanc said. “Passing on the right is something our troopers are trained to do in the performance of their duties, and like many of our duties, it involves risks.”
The collision that caused O’Connell’s death was “the ultimate example of the risks associated with that maneuver,” LeBlanc said.
A guardrail also may have prevented O’Connell from pulling away from the truck, the State Patrol found.
“A couple of seconds in time, or a couple of feet either way, and we’d likely have had a very different outcome,” LeBlanc said
The State Patrol said the truck driver agreed to a voluntary blood test for alcohol or drugs, and there is no evidence he was impaired in any way. He has cooperated fully in the investigation.
LeBlanc said the results of the preliminary investigation are being released, in part, so that the driver of the box truck can move on with his life and not have to worry about whether he faces criminal liability.
While no fault has been ascribed to the trooper, LeBlanc said the fatal collision will be reviewed at the State Patrol’s motorcycle in-service training.
O’Connell, a married father of two, had been with the Patrol for 16 years and was once named Trooper of the Year. At his memorial service in June, a former supervisor called him the “nicest man in the world.”
Some legislators have proposed naming the reconstructed Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5 after O’Connell.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983