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Tiger Woods recovering from SUV crash

Sheriff says no charges contemplated

City News Service | 2/24/2021, 1:35 p.m.
Tiger Woods is recovering following a rollover crash in Rancho Palos Verdes...
Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods was recovering at a Torrance hospital Wednesday following a rollover crash in Rancho Palos Verdes that left him with severe and potentially career-threatening injuries to his right leg and ankle, and while the investigation is in its infancy, the famed golfer is unlikely to face criminal charges for the crash.

"We don't contemplate any charges whatsoever in this crash,'' Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday during an online briefing. "This remains an accident. An accident is not a crime. They do happen unfortunately.''

Villaneuva reiterated that there are no indications Woods was impaired in any way, saying "he was lucid, there was no odor of alcohol, no evidence of any medication, narcotics or anything like that that would bring that into question.''

The sheriff said there are also no indications that would suggest a reckless driving charge.

"This is purely an accident,'' he said. "There'll be a cause of it, and there will be a vehicle code attached to the cause -- if it's inattentive driving, whatever the case may be. But that's an infraction, and reckless driving is actually more than an infraction. That's a misdemeanor crime that has a lot of elements attached to it, and there's nothing like that.''

The crash was reported at 7:12 a.m. Tuesday on Hawthorne Boulevard at Blackhorse Road, where Woods was driving northbound on a treacherous downhill, curving stretch of roadway that Villaneuva said has been the scene of 13 accidents -- four involving injuries -- since January of last year.

Villanueva said the 45-year-old golfer's 2021 Hyundai Genesis SUV struck the center median -- actually hitting a "Welcome To Rolling Hills Estates'' sign -- and careened across the southbound lanes, sheering off a tree and rolling over, coming to rest on its side along an embankment about 30 yards off the western edge of the road.

Rescue crews used a pry bar and axe to extricate Woods from the vehicle. The first deputy on the scene, Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, said Woods was conscious and lucid, still strapped in his seat belt in the driver's seat.

Woods was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center by ambulance, where he underwent a long surgical procedure on his lower right leg and ankle.

In a statement released about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on Woods' Twitter account, Dr. Anish Mahajan, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center's chief medical officer and interim CEO, said Woods had "comminuted open'' fractures -- meaning there were multiple breaks that left the bone exposed to open air -- in the upper and lower portion of "both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula.''

The fractures were stabilized by "inserting a rod into the tibia,'' Mahajan said. "Additional injuries to the bones of the foot and ankle were stabilized with a combination of screws and pins. Trauma to the muscle and soft-tissue of the leg required surgical release of the covering of the muscles to relieve pressure due to swelling.''

According to the statement, Woods was "awake, responsive and recovering in his hospital room.''

"We thank everyone for the overwhelming support and messages during this tough time. "... Thank you to the wonderful doctors and hospital staff at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the Fire Department. Your support and assistance has been outstanding.''

The heavily damaged SUV -- a courtesy car from the Genesis Invitational golf tournament that Woods hosted over the weekend at The Riviera Country Club -- was taken on a flat-bed truck to an impound yard in Lomita for further examination.

Villanueva said that as of midday Wednesday, investigators had not pulled a "black box'' from the vehicle, which suffered extensive front end damage.

"We're hoping, obviously, it's going to be equipped with this black box and will have some information about the speed'' the vehicle was traveling when the crash occurred, the sheriff said.

Investigators have not speculated on how fast the vehicle was traveling, although Villanueva noted Tuesday that the SUV traveled "several hundred feet'' after initially striking the center median.

There was also no immediate information on whether Woods was distracted, possibly by a cell phone.

"We do not have any information on that whatsoever,'' Villanueva said Wednesday. "We'll find out on that. I'm sure his phone records might be relevant to that. And that's going to be up to the investigators, and they would require a search warrant for that.''

But the sheriff repeatedly stressed the danger of the downhill roadway, saying, "Even if you're not accelerating, just by gravity alone you're going to start going faster. In fact, there's a turnout for trucks and a warning about testing your brakes.''

He noted again there were no skid marks or signs of braking on the roadway.

Gonzalez, the initial deputy on the scene of the crash, told reporters Tuesday that Woods was "calm and lucid'' while trapped in the wreckage.

"Mr. Woods was seated in the driver's seat. I made contact with him and I ensured that he was able to speak to me. At that time he seemed as though he was still calm and lucid. ... I kept Mr. Woods calm until L.A. County fire arrived at the scene,'' Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he asked the driver, who was wearing a seat belt, for his name.

"He told me his name was Tiger, and at that moment I immediately recognized him,'' Gonzalez said. "I asked him if he knew where he was and what time of day just to make sure he was oriented. He seemed as though he was lucid and calm.

"It's a traumatic experience. So it's not uncommon for people to be focused on unimportant things, or even if they are in pain they might not feel it until much later.''

Gonzalez said he was wearing a body camera that was turned on per department policy during his contact with Woods.

"The nature of his vehicle, the fact that he was wearing a seat belt, I would say it greatly increased the likelihood that it saved his life,'' Gonzalez said.

The speed limit in the area is 45 mph, but Gonzalez said he has seen motorists traveling at 80 mph in the stretch.

Following Sunday's conclusion of The Genesis Invitational, Woods had remained in the Southland to participate in a two-day promotional shoot with Golf Digest and Golf TV at Rolling Hills Country Club, where he was believed to be heading Tuesday morning for another day of filming.

ESPN reported Woods was scheduled to film Tuesday with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

Woods was photographed at the course Monday with retired NBA star Dwyane Wade and comedian David Spade.

Celebrities from the sports and entertainment world quickly sent their well wishes.

Lakers legend Magic Johnson tweeted: "Everyone send your prayers out to Tiger Woods! He was just in a bad car accident. Let us all pray for his speedy recovery.''

Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus wrote, "Barbara and I just heard about Tiger's accident, and like everyone else, we are deeply concerned. We want to offer him our heartfelt support and prayers at this difficult time. Please join us in wishing Tiger a successful surgery and all the best for a full recovery.''

Golfer Justin Rose tweeted: "Just seen the awful news. We know how tough you are, we've seen it a hundred times. Hoping and praying you're ok my friend.''

Woods, a Cypress native who has battled back issues in recent years, last competed in a golf tournament on Dec. 20, at the PNC Championship in Orlando. He subsequently had surgery to remove a pressurized disc fragment that was pinching a nerve, his first surgery since undergoing a spinal fusion in April 2017.

Woods came back from that operation to win the 2019 Masters, his 15th major title, second only to Nicklaus' 18.

But whether he will be able to recover from the severe leg injuries suffered Tuesday and golf again remained a mystery.

On Sunday, Woods told CBS' Jim Nantz that he was scheduled to have an MRI and would await the results to determine when he could begin training for a return to competition.

Woods has been involved had two other high-profile auto incidents. In November 2009, he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home and suffered minor injuries. In 2017, he was found asleep in a vehicle in Jupiter, Florida, and was found to have multiple painkillers and sleeping aids in his system. He subsequently entered a diversion program.