The Los Angeles County sheriff says detectives have determined what caused Tiger Woods to crash his SUV last month in Southern California but would not release details Wednesday, citing unspecified privacy concerns for the golf star.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the Associated Press during a live social media event that “a cause has been determined; the investigation has concluded,” but claimed that investigators needed permission from Woods — who previously named his yacht “Privacy” — to release information about the crash.
Later Wednesday evening the sheriff’s department attempted to clarify its position, saying in a statement on Twitter that “the release of accident reports is governed under California Vehicle Code Section 20012. When we are able, we intend to release the information learned during the traffic collision investigation involving Tiger Woods.”
Woods suffered serious injuries in the Feb. 23 crash when he struck a raised median around 7 a.m. in Rolling Hills Estates, just outside Los Angeles. The Genesis SUV he was driving crossed through two oncoming lanes and uprooted a tree on a downhill stretch that police said is known for wrecks. Woods is in Florida recovering from multiple surgeries.
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Villanueva has been criticized for his comments about the crash, calling it “purely an accident” and saying there was no evidence of impairment. Woods told deputies he did not know how the crash occurred and didn’t remember driving. He was unconscious when a witness first approached the mangled SUV. But a sheriff’s deputy said the athlete later appeared to be in shock but was conscious and able to answer basic questions.
That initial statement from the sheriff’s deputy has been cited as a reason investigators did not seek a search warrant for Woods’ blood samples, which could have been screened for drugs and alcohol. In 2017, Woods checked himself into a clinic for help in dealing with prescription medication after a DUI charge in Florida.
Detectives, however, did obtain a search warrant for the data recorder, known as a black box, from the 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV. Villanueva would not say Wednesday what data had been found in the black box.
“We have reached out to Tiger Woods and his personnel,” Villanueva said. “There’s some privacy issues on releasing information on the investigation, so we’re going to ask them if they waive the privacy and then we will be able to do a full release on all the information regarding the accident.”
California has rather restrictive public records laws when it comes to law enforcement agencies. By law, it can withhold copies of accident reports, although generally it releases basic information.
The law the sheriff’s department cited Wednesday holds that “all required accident reports, and supplemental reports … shall be for the confidential use of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of the California Highway Patrol.” However, it also states that “the Department of the California Highway Patrol or the law enforcement agency to whom the accident was reported shall disclose the entire contents of the reports, the names and addresses of persons involved or injured in, or witnesses to, an accident, the registration numbers and descriptions of vehicles involved, the date, time and location of an accident, all diagrams, statements of the drivers involved or occupants injured in the accident and the statements of all witnesses to any person who may have a proper interest” in the accident.
Because Woods was the only person injured in the accident, and Villanueva has previously stated he was not being charged with a crime, only parties whose property was damaged in the accident — such as the owners of the car, the city or neighbors — would be entitled to a copy of the full accident report.
Woods’ agent at Excel Sports, Mark Steinberg, did not immediately respond to an email.
“We have all the contents of the black box, we’ve got everything,” Villanueva said. “It’s completed, signed, sealed and delivered. However, we can’t release it without the permission of the people involved in the collision.”
Greg Risling, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County district attorney, said in an email Wednesday that no felony or misdemeanor complaints against Woods had been filed through their office regarding the crash.
Villanueva’s statement about privacy issues did not make sense to Joseph Giacalone, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired New York City Police Department sergeant, who has criticized the sheriff’s response to the Woods incident from the start.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a department ever ask for permission like that,” he said. “What happens if his lawyers say ‘no, you can’t send it out now.’ And then where does that leave us?”
Giacalone said it’s unlikely that deputies would have sought the permission of non-celebrity victims in similar crashes to release information. If the sheriff’s hesitancy stemmed from a potential medical episode behind the wheel, Giacalone said, authorities could simply say it was a medical emergency without giving additional details.
“I don’t think they would have asked any family member of us if they can come out with it,” he said.
Woods is from the Los Angeles area and was back home to host his PGA tournament, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, which ended two days before the crash. He was driving an SUV lent to him by the tournament.
Woods, 45, has never gone an entire year without playing, dating back to his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old in high school.
The Associated Press and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Paula Lavigne contributed to this report
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