MODESTO — A report on the December 2011 death of a Stanislaus County sheriff's crime technician largely puts the blame on Mary Donahou herself for not taking enough care while working on a dark road.
But the report, commissioned by Sheriff Adam Christianson, also calls for updated training and changes to uniforms worn by civilian personnel. Christianson said his department is reviewing the report and has made some moves to increase worker safety.
Donahou died in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 2011, after two cars hit her on Santa Fe Avenue in Hughson. The involvement of two cars is a new detail in the report previous reports had only one.
"It is important to remember that this is an examination of one moment in time," the report states. " For a variety of factors that morning, Mary's actions resulted in her making the ultimate law enforcement sacrifice: the loss of her life."
Donahou had responded to a call to collect evidence and take photographs after someone fired a gun into a house in the area. According to the report, written by Los Angeles police Capt. Rich Wemmer and retired Huntington Beach police Lt. Ed Deuel, a deputy on duty in Hughson asked for help taking photos because his camera was not working.
There were no crime scene technicians on duty at the time, so the deputy canceled the request, instead asking the deputy on duty in Waterford for a camera. The Waterford deputy had only a personal camera that was not compatible with the department's system.
Called to work early
The Waterford deputy came to Hughson to help and the original deputy asked for authorization of overtime for a crime scene technician. The watch commander approved the request and called Donahou, who was supposed to report to work at 7 a.m., at 5:28 a.m. She arrived at the scene at 6:33 a.m., the report says.
Donahou parked her car on the right side of Santa Fe, got out her camera and started to cross the street. Investigators believe Donahou had started to take photographs of the crime scene, although they can't say for sure because her camera and its memory card were destroyed in the accident.
Struck by two vehicles
Donahou first was hit by a 2000 Suzuki sedan being driven south on Santa Fe, which knocked her into a 2000 Chevrolet pickup going north on Santa Fe. The second impact pushed her underneath the sedan.
Investigators conducting tests under similar conditions found that Donahou's black clothing, along with headlights from opposing vehicles, rendered her nearly invisible to the drivers. The report recommends that the Sheriff's Department beef up training on safety procedures, require two employees at such scenes, with one watching traffic, and alter the uniforms of civilian staff to include reflective material.
"Our plan is to review and assess each finding and recommendation in the report," Christianson said in an email Monday. "An action plan will be developed and we'll make the necessary changes to ensure the safety of our employees."
Christianson said the department already issues safety equipment that includes jackets with reflective material.
"Our action plan will include additional safety measures," he said.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.