COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio police officer whose cruiser slammed into a stopped car in the middle of an intersection tried to veer away but couldn't avoid the crash that killed six members of a family, and there is no basis to charge him, authorities announced Thursday.
Investigators concluded that the other driver entered a Columbus-area intersection despite a red light and was struck on the side by an Upper Arlington police cruiser that was responding to a middle-of-the-night robbery call with its lights and sirens activated. The Oct. 18 crash killed the driver, his wife and four of their daughters, and the police officer was seriously hurt.
"It was a dreadful accident, and given the actions of the other driver, it was unavoidable," Perry Township police Chief Robert Oppenheimer said in a statement Thursday.
There were no signs that the driver, Eid Badi Shahad, was impaired. Exactly why he ran the red light or stopped in the intersection is likely to remain a mystery.
A Columbus police accident expert who was asked to investigate concluded the car had adequate braking equipment but may not have been able to stop short of the intersection because of other factors. The analyst's report noted that Shahad may have been fatigued or distracted, and that while his driver's license required corrective lenses, it's not clear whether he was wearing glasses.
The red light would have been clearly visible to Shahad for hundreds of feet, the investigation showed.
"The Toyota enters the intersection, starts to stop but doesn't, rolls forward a few more feet then does stop," said the accident investigator, Columbus police Sgt. Brooke Wilson, at a Thursday news conference.
The officer, Shawn Paynter, 30, told the investigator that he thought the car would keep rolling through the intersection, so he swerved right to try to go around the back of it.
Dash-cam video shows Paynter's cruiser swerving slightly to the right before hitting the stopped Toyota Corolla squarely in the middle of the driver's side. By swerving and breaking, Paynter was able to reduce his speed from more than 80 mph to about 45 mph at impact, which may have saved his life, Wilson said.
The officer, who was not wearing a seat belt, suffered a serious head injury but has returned to work, said Upper Arlington Police Chief Brian Quinn, who said his agency will now conduct its own investigation into whether Paynter violated any policies.
Police identified those killed as Shahad, 39; Entisar W. Hameed, 31; Shuaa Badi, 16; Amna Badi, 14; Ekbal Badi, 12; and Lina Badi, 2.
None of them wore a seatbelt, and the youngest daughter was not in a child restraint.
The family were refugees from Basra, Iraq, who came to the United States about three years ago, people close to the family said. They had been out making visits as part of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Shahad's mother and his four sons were home at the time of the accident.
Officials said attorneys for the family have been notified of the findings of the investigation. One of their attorneys didn't immediately respond to a message left Thursday.
Quinn said Paynter is haunted by the crash and is declining interview requests.
"He struggles, but he's doing as well as can be expected," Quinn said. "It's a difficult, challenging time for him."