With 17 years as a traffic investigator under his belt, the streets of Anaheim are filled with memories for Officer John Roman.
He remembers how the Orangethorpe area once was plagued by vehicle vs. train accidents – that is until bridges were built to put an end to it.
And the time a car collided with a residential garage, causing it to sink. Urban Search and Rescue was called in to prop the structure up through shoring.
And how just a few weeks ago, a drag-racing accident and resulting car fire left two drivers dead.
“Every corner has a story,” says Roman as he drove through the city one recent Thursday night during his shift, from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
As one of four Anaheim Police Department accident investigators, Roman’s job involves patrolling Anaheim and Anaheim Hills’ 50 square miles for accidents and heading out to scenes from fender-benders to fatal collisions to take full reports and conduct interviews with drivers, passengers and witnesses.
He helps guide drivers into lower traffic areas – such as from the middle of a busy street to a nearby parking lot – calling out tow trucks and AAA, when necessary.
In bigger wrecks, like the recent drag-racing accident, he’ll act as coordinator as well. In that accident, for instance, the resulting fire caught on a nearby fence and was starting into a tree. Roman made sure a nearby building was evacuated by officers in case it caught, too.
After making sure everyone is safe, Roman’s ultimate goal is figuring out what happened and who’s at fault.
“I’ll get there and I just start interviewing people,” he says. “Start to put the puzzle back together.”
Averaging about 40 accident calls a month (though he had 59 crashes in December and his record is 60 crash reports in a month), Roman really never knows what he’s going to get – in fact, he recently went out to a call involving livestock including cows, sheep and donkeys on a residential street. It turns out a petting zoo’s horse trailer accidentally was left open.
He handles about four crashes a night – his record is eight in one shift. One thing he knows for sure, the accidents come in clusters.
“This is literally a job where when it rains, it pours,” he says.
Last year was a heavy one for fatalities. While typically averaging two to three fatality accidents a year, Roman had seven fatal accidents in 2016 (he finished the year with 470 total crashes). The most fatal accidents he’s ever had in a year is 10.
Though his main job is accident investigations, he can get called out to assist nearby patrol officers or head out to non-traffic calls. In 2014, Roman took a call for a drowning at a nearby residence and he administered lifesaving CPR.
He will also stop drivers and give tickets for violations when necessary.
But the accidents are inevitable. Some are very serious, like the woman who hit and killed a cyclist with her car while not wearing her prescription glasses. Others are a little more light-hearted, like when the pickup truck with a camper shell carrying pots of noodles in the back crashed.
“There were noodles everywhere,” Roman recalls.
Then there was the couple a few weeks ago leaving a Christmas party in separate cars. The wife had just bought a used car that day and couldn’t figure out how to work the windshield wipers. The husband stopped to help her and another car spun out of control, hitting the wife’s car and pinning her husband against it before leaving the scene. The husband wasn’t seriously injured, but the recently purchased car was badly damaged.
Whatever the call may be, Roman is just glad to help. And he enjoys what he does because he gets to interact with people who are usually glad to see him.
“He’s just a normal guy that’s a victim… He’s happy to see me. I’m happy to see them,” he says after assisting another couple following a hit-and-run. “Everybody’s nice. I’m just happy to help them.”