Head-On Crash

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On a rainy afternoon, an SUV traveling on a two-lane county highway takes a right hand corner too fast and loses its lane. Two cars traveling around the curve from the opposite direction have no time to react, and the defendant collides with both. The driver of the first of these cars dies at the scene. The defendant admits to smoking weed earlier in the day, but passes field sobriety tests. Weed and CBD products are found in the car. Based on the presence of drugs, the state charges her with manslaughter in the second degree.

Fat Pencil Studio worked with the defense to explore the circumstances around the collision. What caused the defendant to exit her lane, and then fail to react to the oncoming cars? Based on data from an accident reconstructionist and aerial photography, we created a 3d model of the scene and involved vehicles. Then, we used his model to produce snapshots of the seconds leading up to the collision, showing the view from behind the wheel as well as a bird's eye view of the entire scene.

The state's manslaughter charge hinges on demonstrating reckless operation of a vehicle—showing a disregard on the defendant's part for the dangerousness of her actions. Second degree Manslaughter in Oregon is a Measure 11 crime, carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 6 years and 3 months.

Based on the accident reconstruction and our visualization, the defense could plausibly tell their story: A woman driving in wet conditions on an unfamiliar road enters a corner too fast. Concerned that she will lose control if she turns too sharply or brakes too hard, she instead swings wide into the left lane, and can't see oncoming traffic until it is too late. In a plea bargain, the charges were reduced to criminally negligent homicide, which involves negligent, but not overtly reckless, operation of a vehicle. Criminally negligent homicide is still a felony, but has no mandatory minimum sentence.

This crash was over in an instant—it's hard to say what actually happened. The expert opinion of the accident reconstructionist is perhaps the best insight available into the moments before the collision. By working closely with the reconstructionist, Fat Pencil Studio provided a visual, intuitive way to grasp the story told by the reconstruction data: That the defendant was negligent—she entered a tricky blind corner too fast—but not necessarily reckless.


Joel Newman is a Senior Designer at Fat Pencil Studio