The collision that resulted in the death of Washington State Patrol Trooper Sean O’Connell in Skagit County in May was a “tragic accident” caused by multiple factors, according to 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. “There was a combination of circumstances that led to a horrific end.”
On May 31, O’Connell was on his motorcycle in Conway, checking the length of a traffic backup on the detour set up around the collapsed Skagit River Bridge. He was riding on the shoulder, outside of the fog line, and attempting to pass a box truck on the right-hand side when the truck made a right turn and hit the trooper, investigators said.
O’Connell, 38, was killed.
Investigators said the driver did not see O’Connell, who was not using his emergency lights and siren at the time of the collision, in keeping with agency training.
LeBlanc said experience has shown that some drivers, upon hearing a siren, make sudden maneuvers to the right. If troopers are forced to pass on the right, they generally turn off their emergency lights and sirens to avoid being hit, according to the State Patrol.
“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.”
A guard rail prevented O’Connell from pulling away from the truck, the State patrol found. After striking the box truck, O’Connell fell underneath it.
“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 cooperated fully in the investigation.
No citations have been issued and no charges are being sought, the State Patrol said.
Thousands attended O’Connell’s June memorial service in Everett. He had been with the patrol for 16 years.