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Electronic eye

Before the FARO scanner, documenting and mapping the scene of a serious vehicle crash in Jackson County was quite labor intensive.

Members of the Serious Traffic Accident Reconstruction team would take numerous digital photographs and measurements of the scene to try and figure out how the crash happened. It was meticulous work.

"As you're doing it, you want to sketch out your crime scene, you want to know what the measurements are," says David Rathbun, a community service deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. "Somebody would actually manually do all those measurements. And you would also have to think, 'What measurements am I going to use in the future?' "

Manual collection of so much data comes with a potential hitch: What if a measurement or angle gets overlooked?

"If you miss something, or if you don't realize that something else is important in the future, you can't go back there to take those measurements because the evidence has been moved," Rathbun says.

But the FARO, a $75,000 laser scanner used by multiple Rogue Valley law enforcement agencies, measures and recreates every point of the scene in 3-dimensional renderings. A software program then "stitches" the scans together, giving investigators a full recreation of the scene, one they can go back and access whenever needed. No measurement or angle is missed, officials say, and there's no limit to the number of scans users can make and link up.

"For me, it’s efficiency," says Sheriff Nathan Sickler. "It provides a more clear representation of all of the event."

The information can be used by police to piece together situations ranging from fatal vehicle crashes to homicides, and can be used by prosecutors and defense lawyers in resulting court cases.

"It actually would give us the chance to walk the jury through a crime scene," Rathbun says.

Area police purchased the device about two months ago, using money from the Medford Area Drug & Gang Enforcement team. Three Medford police officers and three sheriff's department deputies, including Rathbun, have been trained on how to use it.

"This system is going to be used by multiple agencies," says Medford police Sgt. Don Lane. "Any law enforcement in Southern Oregon that’s part of MADGE has access to it."

Police recently used the scanner to map an accident scene in Central Point where a 25-year-old man died after being hit by a Greyhound bus. Police also used the device at a fatal crash scene on East Evans Creek Road outside of Rogue River.

Sometimes investigators will use soccer ball-sized spherical targets as points of reference for the machine, though they aren't always needed. In a room with unique features, for example, the FARO can stitch together multiple scans without such reference points. But in a square, empty room with uniform walls or an outdoor setting, it's a different story.

"It would need some form of reference, and that's what those spheres are for," Rathbun says.

The device has a few trade-offs, officials say. Scans take time to make, upload and render, and investigators have to make sure scenes being scanned are cleared of people. Then there's the computer storage required for a sizable amount of digital information.

"The real advantage is we've got it locked in now," Rathbun says. "We've got all that information, and we can use it."

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.


The target tool, used with the FARO 3-D scanner, provides points of reference to help 'stitch' together crime-scene renderings. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
The FARO 3-D scanner is a new tool used by Jackson County law enforcement to help solve crime scenes and investigate crashes. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]