Detectives from the Washington State Patrol have determined that a combination of multiple factors led to the death of Trooper Sean O’Connell in a motorcycle collision in Skagit County earlier this year.
O’Connell’s motorcycle collided with a commercial vehicle known as a “box truck” shortly before 6 p.m. on May 31, at the intersection of Fir Island Road and Greenfield St. south of Mt. Vernon.
“There was no one single cause for this tragedy,” said Capt. Charles LeBlanc, commander of the Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division. “There was a combination of circumstances that led to a horrific end.”
The investigation into the collision is still not complete, but detectives have determined the fundamental facts of what occurred.
Just prior to the collision, O’Connell had checked the length of a traffic backup on the Skagit River Bridge detour and was returning to where another trooper was directing traffic. He was moving up the shoulder, outside the fog line, passing to the right of the box truck.
As the two vehicles approached the intersection the box truck made a right turn onto Greenfield and the truck was struck on the right side by O’Connell’s motorcycle. The box truck driver did not see O’Connell’s motorcycle prior to initiating his turn. Speed was not a factor in the collision.
“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."
Another complicating factor was the presence of a guardrail that cut off O’Connell’s avenue of potential escape. Perhaps most tragically, 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
LeBlanc said that O’Connell was not using his emergency lights and siren at the time of the collision, in keeping with agency training. 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.
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 lack of egregious behavior by either party required detectives to rule out other possible scenarios before determining that the events were exactly as they appeared the first night: a tragic accident.
Sean O’Connell, badge #1076, is the 28th Washington State Patrol Trooper to be killed in the line of duty.