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KCFD pumper truck involved in deadly Westport crash had Opticom emitter

The emitter could have changed the traffic light, but there was no detector installed at the Broadway-Westport intersection and city currently has no plans to install one.
westport crash
Posted at 5:11 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 11:51:06-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department pumper truck that was involved in a December 2021 crash that killed three people, was equipped with a safety device that could have changed the traffic signal.

However, the intersection was not equipped with a detector.

Pumper 19 was speeding northbound on Broadway Boulevard through a red light at Westport Road on Dec. 15, 2021, when it crashed into a westbound SUV that entered the intersection with a green light.

The KCFD pumper truck was outfitted with an Opticom emitter that sends an infrared signal, which can be picked up by a detector that triggers the light to cycle to green for oncoming emergency vehicles.

One-hundred intersections in KCMO are equipped with such a detector, but the intersection at Broadway and Westport isn’t among them.

Pumper 19 is one of 13 KCFD vehicles equipped with an Opticom emitter, but only 10 are operational, according to information KSHB 41 obtained via Sunshine Law request from the city.

Seven pumper trucks, including the currently disabled Pumper 19 involved in the deadly crash, along with two trucks, a hazmat vehicle, two reserve pumpers and a high-rise vehicle that can replenish firefighters’ air tanks have Opticom emitters.

The reserve pumpers are designated as “replacement needed,” though it’s unclear whether it’s the emitter or something else that needs replacement.

Currently, the stop lights at 100 intersections across KCMO are equipped with detectors, which allows KCFD vehicles to change traffic signals and create a clear path during an emergency response.

The city has identified 29 other “priority Opticom installation sites,” including 18 associated with KC Streetcar extension south along Main Street to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“Looking toward future installations, the Public Works Department identified several intersections based on our high-injury network,” Sherae Honeycutt, KCMO press secretary, said via email to KSHB 41.

Broadway and Westport are not among the intersections slated for priority installation.

Firefighter Dominic Biscari, who was found guilty in February 2023 of three counts of second-degree involuntary and placed on three years of probation as part of a plea agreement, was driving the pumper truck more than 16 mph over the posted speed limit when it struck Jennifer San Nicolas’ SUV.

San Nicolas and her passenger, Michael Elwood, were killed in the crash along with Tami Knight, who was getting into her boyfriend’s car along a nearby sidewalk when the vehicles left Broadway and crashed into a building, partially collapsing the former Riot Room.

“Sadly, the City Government is usually reactive and not proactive in providing services and safety to its constituents,” Biscari’s attorney, Kevin Regan, said in a statement to KSHB 41. “The City’s refusal to install Opticom at the intersection of a triple fatality collision is tremendously unsafe and short-sighted. Our motorists deserve better.”

Regan criticized the city for its failure to install the Opticom system at all intersections in a statement provided to the KSHB 41 I-Team after Biscari was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

KCFD has suspended Biscari without pay and intends to fire him, but Regan said his client will appeal any such action.

Honeycutt reiterated that “KCFD Drivers are required to travel the speed limit even in an emergency” and noted that KCFD Interim Chief Ross Grundyson recently implemented additional changes to the department’s driving policy, including a requirement to stop at all red lights and stop signs.

KCFD’s old policy did not require vehicles to stop in such circumstances, but the new changes are in line with national standards for safe operation of emergency vehicles.

“Even with fail-proof technology, drivers who utilize defensive driving helps to ensure people they encounter on the road get to their destination,” Honeycutt wrote.

Installation of a single Opticom receiver costs $3,500, or $14,000 to install receivers in all four directions at a typical intersection.

“The technology is currently in use in Kansas City, and interestingly it was originally intended to be used to move fire apparatuses in and out of the fire house on North Oak (Trafficway),” Honeycutt said via email.

Kansas City settled a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the victims’ families for $1.6 million in January 2023, but a breach-of-contract lawsuit, for which an arbitrator recommended a $32.4-million settlement, remains pending.

Deadly KCFD Westport crash: One year later by KSHB Producer