2 Investigates: GSP troopers at fault in 99 wrecks last year

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ATLANTA —

A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered a string of Georgia State Patrol troopers at fault for cruiser crashes within the last year.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant spent weeks digging through all of the documents and went straight to Georgia State Patrol's top brass to find out what is being done to keep drivers safe.

Every time their emergency lights go on, the public's lives are on the line.

"The most dangerous thing we do, and what we do most, is drive that vehicle," said Mike Barton, Chief Driving Instructor for the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

Often officers are racing down busy Georgia roads with no margin for error.

"The problem is when we make mistakes, it's catastrophic," said Barton.

Last New Year's Eve, a crash involving GSP claimed the life of Kathy Porter, wife of Atlanta Braves head trainer Jeff Porter.

"We're doing okay. We're doing all right," Porter told Diamant.

The family was on the way to a football game when a Georgia State Patrol trooper, trying to catch up to a police chase, blew through a red light in downtown Atlanta and broadsided their SUV.

Diamant sat down with Porter last month at Braves spring training in Florida. Porter would not discuss the wreck, but had plenty to say about Trooper Donald Crozier who caused it.

"I don't think you need to be in a tragedy like us to realize that he probably should not have been driving," said Porter.

Through a series of open records requests to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Diamant pieced together Crozier's driving record.
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Just 10 months before the crash, Crozier was in an accident in which he went straight through another red light in northwest Atlanta and crashed into an oncoming car. No one got hurt that time.

Crozier was written up after that crash. His supervisor wrote, "It was your fourth 'at fault' crash since November 2008 where disciplinary action was taken  …  It is this type of behavior that must be corrected."

The wreck that ultimately cost Crozier his job cost Kathy Porter her life.

"This wasn't rocket science. This is the basic thing that a person is trained right out of trooper school," Col. Mark McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, told Diamant.

Diamant traveled to Forsyth to the Georgia State Patrol Training Center and got behind the wheel with the lead driving instructor to see what state troopers have to go through before getting on the road.

"It's as realistic as we can make it," said lead driving instructor Barton.

Cadets in the school sweat out high-stress maneuvers on cone courses, skid pads and speed tracks  --  more than 100 hours by the time they graduate.

"We try to put them in every condition we can, so that in a moment of crisis they'll fall back on their training," said Barton.

After digging through department documents, Channel 2 found troopers at fault in at least 99 wrecks from January 2011 through March 2012. That's about one every four days, though some were more serious than others.

Diamant found one crash on Georgia Highway 400 in Lumpkin County that sent a woman to the hospital.

"We're not going to prevent it from ever happening again, but we have a moral obligation to the citizens to take a look at what we do and how we do our business," said McDonough.

The crash that killed Porter led to the Georgia State Patrol top brass to ramp up training for all troopers on how to make better decisions. Porter hopes it will make a difference.

"We don't want anybody else sitting in these chairs," said Porter.

Diamant also found other troopers with multiple at-fault wrecks on their records, even though as cadets, all troopers actually get four times more driver training than the state of Georgia's minimum standards for police officers.