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What Happens After a Fatal Accident on a Houston Freeway

Unfortunately, fatal accidents occur on Houston freeways much too often. Assistant Police Chief John Trevino noted, "On any given weekend we probably average at least one freeway closure."

And in, the case of most of these closures, the fatal car accident was caused by a drunk driver. When a drunk driving accident leads to a death, criminal charges of vehicular homicide or intoxication manslaughter may be involved, so the accident scene has to be treated like a crime scene. As a result, highways are often shut down for two or three hours at a time.

If freeways were to stay open during accident investigations, the complications in gathering evidence and determining what actually happened would be compounded. Debris patterns, such as broken glass and skid marks, only remain for a limited amount of time and it is important that this evidence is preserved so police can capture it.

During these freeway closures, six accident investigators from the Houston Police Department examine the scene. The investigators, and a prosecutor from the District Attorney's Office, need full reign to investigate, and they have to be able to do it safely -- which is another reason why the freeway has to be barricaded from all through traffic.

Accidents involving semi-trucks with spilled fuel or big rigs hauling hazardous materials often result in even longer closures. At times the Texas Department of Transportation sends a representative to the accident scene to determine if damage was done to the freeway.

So the next time you're sitting in traffic due to a freeway closure, remember that it is most likely because a life was lost in a tragic accident. Police need the chance to investigate, so try to be patient.

Source: Houston Public Radio, "Accident Investigations Mean Long Freeway Shutdowns," 10/5/11.

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