June 4, 2010

Why did it take police 4 days to gain access to this man's phone records....

... which turned out to be the way to locate him and save his life?
Thomas Wopat-Moreau, 22, lost control of his BMW sport wagon along the Taconic State Parkway, 40 miles south of Albany, after storming out of a party in East Fishkill early Sunday morning, state police said.

The vehicle flipped over, went airborne and soared down an embankment - finally coming to rest in heavy vegetation about 480 feet from the highway....

Lacking feeling in his legs and suffering from internal injuries, Wopat-Moreau crawled away from the wrecked BMW... beat his way through waist-high marsh grasses, but could only make it 150 feet away from the BMW.

For four days, as dehydration set in and insects swarmed, Wopat-Moreau survived on swamp water and a gritty determination to live. 

27 comments:

Fred4Pres said...

It sound bizare, but it is more common than you think. You go off the road and get stuck and no one can see you.

RMc said...

Will I go to hell for saying, "It's OK, because it happened to a guy driving a BMW"?

Hoosier Daddy said...

"Why did it take police 4 days to gain access to this man's phone records...."

Maybe the better question is why did the kid throw a tantrum, drive off like a maniac and flip his car over?

AllenS said...

He almost killed himself. Thank God, he didn't kill anybody else.

llamas said...

Why did it take police 4 days . . .?

Well, oh, perhaps because the police are not supposed to be in the business of looking for adult citizens when there is no concrete evidence that they are anything other than alive, well and safe? I'm sorry, but 'didn't call his Mom' is not grounds for deploying the police - or, at least, not until several days have passed. Which is just what happened here. Once it appeared that he might actually be at-risk, it would appear that the police acted with commendable speed and efficiency.

llater,

llamas

Ann Althouse said...

@llama I'm reading "The break state police investigators needed came yesterday, when they were able to get access to Wopat-Moreau's cell phone records."

I'm interpreting that to mean that it took some doing to get to the records. Obviously, it shouldn't be too easy to get in there just because someone is looking for somebody. I don't know what the standard should be, or how early the police started looking for him.

Lem said...

Say it takes 48 hours from the time the adult is last seen to declare him/her missing.. another 48 to get to the phone records seems excessive when you add to that the surrounding circumstance of the disappearance.

The Drill SGT said...

I'm interpreting that to mean that it took some doing to get to the records. Obviously, it shouldn't be too easy to get in there just because someone is looking for somebody. I don't know what the standard should be, or how early the police started looking for him.

@ 24hours - friends/family call the cop
@ 48 hours - police begin to look because he's an adult, it's expensive to find peoplewho aren't realy missing tc
@ 72 hours they have run down the timeline, events and clues
@ 96 hours police have convinced bosses, a DA, and a judge to grant a warrant. (remember those liberals that sued phone companies for giving the FBI phone record data without a warrant? sometimes the data is useful)

PS: drinking swamp water is a mistake, as any Vet or serious hiker can tell you. Dysentary will cause you to lose more fluid than you can take in. rnking swampwater will cut your survival time in half.

llamas said...

From other news reporting . . .

His mother reported him missing sometime on Sunday.

SOP around here would be a BOLO with description and license-plate number - any LEO that saw him would do a 'welfare check', but no active search. Grown-ups are allowed to go about their business unmolested by the police.

NYSP issued a press release that characterised him as 'missing' sometime Wednesday - that seems like a reasonable timeframe with no contact whatever to have some reasonable suspicions that he might be at risk. To track him down, from a standing start, in less than 24 hours, after having no contact with him for 3 days, seems like efficient police work to me. He could have been in California, or a million-and-one other places.

llater,

llamas

Capt. Schmoe said...

Early morning hours?

A party?

Storming off in a huff?

Losing control off the car, flipping it and ending up in the weeds, hundreds of feet from the roadway?

Almost certainly, alcohol involved.

No sensation/movement to his legs - likely spinal cord injury, maybe permanent, maybe not.

Right now a P.I lawyer is reading the article, licking his/her chops.

Humans. We are so predictable.

Triangle Man said...

To track him down, from a standing start, in less than 24 hours, after having no contact with him for 3 days, seems like efficient police work to me.

Efficient work when the technology that ultimately found him was not available, but dreadful given the availability of this information today.

TosaGuy said...

The real Tom Wopat never flipped the General Lee....but he usually wasn't driving.

llamas hits the nail on the head.

rhhardin said...

I'd guess they wanted access to signals his phone was putting out, to narrow down a location.

Not specifically what's usually called phone records.

That would take some data mining.

llamas said...

Triangle Man wrote:

'Efficient work when the technology that ultimately found him was not available, but dreadful given the availability of this information today.'

I respectfully disagree.

The cell-phone trace placed the cell-phone (note, not him, just his phone) within a 3-4 mile radius. That's 28 square miles or 19,200 acres, much of it rural and heavily-wooded.

One man can effectively search about 10 acres of wooder ground per hour. So a through search of that area would require 1920 man-hours of effort.

Even allowing for the fact that a large proportion of the area can be more-quickly covered or discounted, that's still a huge search area. And it's not like this is the only thing that the police have to deal with.

Compound that with the fact that there's still no evidence of any crime or misadventure. That means that private ground can only be searched with the consent of the landowner. That all takes time.

Real life is not like CSI, where the instantly-summoned helicopter finds the victim between commercial breaks.

To appreciate the size of this task, just cast your mind back to numerous searches for missing children, which have failed to find their targets in search areas much smaller than this, with manpower much greater, and even after much longer searches. This young man is lucky indeed that a sharp-eyed trooper spotted the most vestigial evidence of the wreck from the roadway.

A few years ago, a lady lost control of her car on the railroad bridge over WB I96 just West of Novi, Michigan. She went over the guard-rail and landed in some trees next to the railroad tracks, about 50 feet from the roadway. I saw the point where she left the road - there was not one single sign of what had happened.

Her route and intentions were known and the alarm was raised quite quickly.

100,000 cars pass that point every day, and many trains pass on the tracks below. Nobody spotted her, even though she was not 50 feet from the road or from the railroad tracks.

It took 4 days of searching to find her - and she was not found by those searching for her. (She also survived the incident.)

I really don't think you appreciate the magnitude of the task of finding this young man. To succeed, in less than 24 hours, from a standing start, is good police work, and that trooper deserves a donut.

llater,

llamas

Fred4Pres said...

RMc said...
Will I go to hell for saying, "It's OK, because it happened to a guy driving a BMW"?

6/4/10 7:14 AM



Who is 22.

Calypso Facto said...

Lots of thoughts on this one:
1) I'm with llamas that the search time doesn't seem unreasonable for someone probably not missed for a day or two and last seen 40 miles away.
2) I'm GLAD private citizen cell phone records are hard for the government to access!
3) There is a little bit of schadenfreude ala RMc about a 22 y/o driving a newish looking Beemer.
4) How tall exactly is "waist-high grass" to someone who's crawling?
5) The phrase "cell phone, by his side" makes him sound like a moron who didn't use his still-functioning,and at-hand cell phone to call for help, but I thought that was probably too harsh of a judgement until I re-read and learned that the BMW was a sport wagon. Dude IS obviously an idiot, IMHO.

AllenS said...

The phrase "cell phone, by his side" makes him sound like a moron who didn't use his still-functioning,and at-hand cell phone to call for help

He might have tried to dial 911, but was unable to find the 11.

MadisonMan said...

You can't fix dumb.

(AllenS, your comment at (ahem) 9:11 was great)

c3 said...

Sounds like this case in AZ but with a better outcome

edutcher said...

I thought 24 hours was the time it took for police to declare someone missing, but Sarge's timeline, sad to say, makes sense.

TosaGuy said...

The real Tom Wopat never flipped the General Lee....but he usually wasn't driving.

You mean that's what happened to Denver Pyle?

HDHouse said...

ahhh with "no feeling in his legs" waist high swamp grass seems to be a moot point of detail.

Thorley Winston said...

Four days doesn’t sound that unreasonable to me given that adults are generally allowed to take off on their own and there wasn’t any evidence of foul play. I don’t think I would care that much personally if it was easier for the police to track the location of my cellular phone but I understand why people don’t want it to be easy for the government to have this kind of information whenever they want it.


As far as the young man, I’m glad that they found him and I hope he makes a full recovery. Moreover, I hope that when he’s recovering and replays the events in his mind that lead up to his near death experience he takes stock of his life and uses this opportunity to learn from it. He’s 22 years old, that’s plenty of time to learn from your mistakes and put yourself on a better path.

The Drill SGT said...

rhhardin said...
I'd guess they wanted access to signals his phone was putting out, to narrow down a location.


I can't talk about what we do in 'Stan, but after 911, a bunch of Harris guys that worked for my wife spent days walkng over Trade Towers rubble dousing for bodies. Till the batteries ran down.

David said...

There must have been someone who noticed that Tom was gone and wanted to find him. That person--plus the police--saved his life.

AlphaLiberal said...

He has no-one to blame but himself. He should have pulled himself up by his bootsraps.

Eric said...

The cops won't even start looking for a couple days, because ninety-nine times out of a hundred when someone gets pissed off and storms out of somewhere he's just interested in being on his own for awhile.

Kev said...

TosaGuy, you beat me to the punch with the Dukes of Hazzard reference. (But really, I'm surprised that it took that many comments for someone to say it. The name "Wopat" is uncommon enough to begin with, never mind him also being a Thomas.)