Kzoo Co. authorities: ‘Hypothetical conclusions’ in NTSB report

Kalamazoo cycling tragedy, Cooper Township, five bicyclists killed, Michigan State Police photos
The scene in Cooper Township after a pickup truck hit nine bicyclists on June 6, 3016, killing five of them. (Photo from Michigan State Police records)

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — Kalamazoo-area law enforcement agencies are firing back at a federal report that argued better communication between 911 dispatchers could have prevented a crash that killed five bicyclists last summer.

“We are steadfast in our support of our Dispatch personnel who handled this incident professionally, by policy and in the manner in which they are trained,” a Thursday statement from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the Kalamazoo Township and City of Kalamazoo police chiefs read in part.

The April 11 report from the National Transportation Safety Board said dispatchers from the three agencies who received three calls about a reckless driver before the June 2016 crash had “limited communication” with one another.

“Had they (the dispatchers) shared information more effectively, police officers from adjoining jurisdictions might have had sufficient time to intercept the driver before the collision with the cyclists,” the NTSB said.

>>Online: Full NTSB report (PDF) 

In the Thursday statement, Kalamazoo-area authorities said the NTSB’s initial draft of the report contained “factual errors” that they “worked diligently” to try to correct. The local agencies also said they urged the NTSB to be “more comprehensive,” but “the NTSB came to ‘far-reaching hypothetical conclusions'” anyway.

“This alone is a disservice to all stakeholders involved in this incident particularly the victims and their families,” the statement reads.

Five cyclists were killed and four others were injured in the crash in Cooper Township, north of the city of Kalamazoo. Charles Pickett Jr., who authorities say was driving the truck that struck the cyclists, is facing charges of second-degree murder and driving under the influence of drugs.

The sheriff’s department said it would not go into further detail about the “shortcomings of the NTSB investigation” until after Pickett’s trial.

It pointed to a dissenting statement from NTSB Board Member Earl Weener at the end of the report, saying it “captures the essence of many of our concerns.” In that dissenting statement, Weener said he was “not convinced” that lack of communication on dispatchers’ part was a contributing factor to the deadly crash. Weener argued that “given the driver’s erratic and haphazard driving pattern, his apprehension would have been a challenge.”

The NTSB recommended that the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners “expedite” consolidating dispatch.

The county is already moving toward a consolidated dispatch center, though a building to house that center has not yet been constructed. Voters in the county will have to approve a phone surcharge increase of nearly $2 in May to move forward with the plan.

“We are the largest supporters of consolidated dispatch. There are many merits and good reasons to work toward consolidation for our community. Those merits and benefits should stand independent of this event,” the statement from the sheriff’s department concludes.

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