CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. - A woman and her daughter were hurt in a fiery crash, but police didn’t cite anyone. A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered sloppy police work.
“There’s a fire! The car is on fire,” a witness told a 911 dispatcher after seeing the fiery wreck.
“We saw a flash of blue, just plowed right into us, about 100 mph,” Melissa Magen said. She said she can still remember the terrifying moment when she and her 14-year-old daughter Eden thought they were going to die.
“We kept looking back at the car and saying, 'I can’t believe we’re alive,'” Magen said.
But her relief turned to frustration when police started investigating the crash on I-75 near Old Dixie Highway in Clayton County.
Channel 2 Action News obtained police body camera video of officers investigating the May 27, 2019, crash.
“I still can’t get her insurance. It’s all on her phone,” said one officer. “Let her know she will get a citation for not having insurance or license or anything if she can’t provide it now,” another officer said.
“Her phone was ****ed up and lost in the car and the paperwork was all soaking wet,” the first officer said.
“Sorry, she can fight it in court,” the second officer said.
“My car looks like it was put in a blender and I can’t produce my ID and you’re going to have the audacity to cite me for this when you’re not citing the woman who caused this accident,” Magen said.
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Magen said she and her daughter were traveling in the left lane in their black SUV when a blue car clipped them.
“She came out of nowhere but when she tried to pass me in the emergency lane, there was no way to stop,” Magen said.
She said her SUV went flying across four lanes of traffic, flipping five times before slamming into a wall.
But the other driver, Chyna Berry, told a completely different story. “I was over in the furthest lane to the left. I was trying to get over to my right. That’s whenever I guess she hit me on the side and the back,” Berry can be heard saying on the body camera video.
Police also interviewed a witness who called 911. He told Channel 2 Action News Berry was speeding and nearly ran him off the road. “The person was driving kind of erratically,” said the witness on the bodycam video.
Despite his account, bodycam footage showed confusion as officers tried to determine who was at fault.
“OK. Watchya got now?” asked one officer.
"It was the black car but for obstructing her view. She couldn’t see and so their statements are super conflicting. They both said they were in the far left lane but, damage and everything, I’ll have to go with the black car,” the other officer said.
“Why?” asked the first officer.
“Her new damage is on her back right side and so, what I’m thinking is, this lady, this lady could not see because of all the crap she had in the back of her car,” the second officer replied.
One officer went to Berry and can be heard on body camera video saying, “I wanted to make sure we were dead set on who was wrong and who was right in this situation. Just so I didn’t give y'all the wrong ticket, but it’s going to be on her.”
“This whole thing is a massive **** show. None of us can figure out who’s at fault,” said one officer.
When Channel 2 Action News first requested the incident report, we discovered that no one was cited because police couldn’t decide who was at fault.
“They did a drawing or sketch and it basically said that I was merging into her lane. Put me merging in her lane, which made me even more upset,” Magen said.
Without a driver cited, Magen was unable to get the other driver’s insurance company to pay for her totaled SUV and thousands of dollars in medical bills.
“I will need surgery for some of my injuries. I can’t sleep at night,” Magen said.
Her sleepless nights continued for the next several months until Channel 2 Action News went to Clayton County for answers. Police revised the report four times before they finally blamed the other driver.
The solicitor general got the case and, in October, cited Berry with reckless driving, driving in the emergency lane and improper lane change.
“She definitely needs to be held accountable for her actions because, if not, she is going to be on that road doing the same thing over and over again,” Magen said.
She said she wants Clayton County police to do a better job investigating accidents. “They’re supposed to be protecting and serving. That’s not protecting and that’s not serving,” Magen said.
Channel 2 Action News learned the department disciplined an officer because she lost the drivers’ written statements and stopped her body camera from recording while investigating the crash.
Channel 2 Action News reached out to Berry, but she didn’t return our phone calls.
Magen has created a GoFundMe page to help with bills.
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