OPOTA students take ‘crash course

A donated semi-tractor, driven by guest instructor Rich Scholl, hits a car during an OPOTA crash simulation.
Law enforcement students examine a car damaged in a simulated crash with a semi-tractor at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London.
Mike Hathaway (left) and Ron Williams (right) help Rich Scholl into his crash suit as he prepares to drive a donated semi-tractor into a car at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London.
Students Chuck Fioretto from North Olmsted, John Garten from Charleston, W.Va., Eric Kiryluk from Greenville, and Paul Hicks from Fairborn examine a car after a simulated accident at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London.

A semi-tractor struck two cars at high speed on Oct. 24, doing extensive damage, but it was no accident.

It was a crash simulation at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) in London. Twenty-five law enforcement students from various parts of Ohio and West Virginia gathered under gray skies to witness the simulation, which was made possible with a donated semi-tractor and a couple of junked cars destined for the scrap yard.

Rich Scholl, a guest instructor from Akron, drove the semi-tractor, hitting the two cars in two separate runs. Afterwards, the students split into two groups, one for each car, and set about taking measurements, examining skid marks, and conducting mock interviews with the driver.

“The goal,” said Ron Thayer, an instructor at OPOTA, “is to make [the simulation] as realistic as possible.”

The simulation may have been realistic, but it was also a lot of fun. Students and instructors joked around with each other and eagerly watched, cell phone cameras at the ready, as Scholl drove the semi down the road. The onlookers cheered when the truck barreled through a parked car, sending it skidding to the side.

“You are awesome!” one student said to Scholl as the driver climbed down from the cab. “You shifted gears!”

“That was only for dramatic effect,” Scholl joked.

After the simulation, the students headed inside to apply their data to formulas so that they could try to recreate the scenario.

According to Thayer, the students spend up to 400 hours in crash reconstruction training, which includes work with scale models. The training is good, says Thayer, but is no substitute for the real thing.

“What we’re doing is elementary physics, but it’s not rocket science. We’re not engineers, but that’s what’s great about it… We all have a normal background in math, we have high school classes, maybe a couple college courses, but [the results] are still pretty accurate. You can’t take common sense out of the equation.”

It’s not every year that OPOTA can have a crash simulation as dramatic as this year’s. This one was only possible because OPOTA received a donated semi-tractor, but Thayer is looking forward to doing something similar in the future.

“I’ve got big plans for next year,” he said.

OPOTA is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and administered by the Attorney General through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission.

The commission establishes uniform courses of training for law enforcement officers and private security throughout Ohio, and regulates the 550-hour basic training curriculum for prospective officers. This curriculum consists of more than 100 subjects ranging from criminal investigation to the use of firearms.

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