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Body Camera Video Shows Officer Telling Venus Williams She's At Fault In Car Crash

A still from a police body camera video shows tennis star Venus Williams listening to Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer David Dowling after a June 9 car crash in Florida that fatally injured an elderly man.

In body camera footage released by police in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., an officer tells tennis star Venus Williams that she is at fault in a car crash but that he is not going to cite her. "You just got stuck in a bad situation there," he says.

The Palm Beach Post published the video Thursday. The footage reflects what police originally said: Williams was at fault in the June 9 crash that led to the death of a passenger in the other vehicle.

Police later rescinded their statement, after reviewing footage from a nearby security camera.

The body camera footage shows police interviewing witnesses after the crash.

In a chilling scene, an officer talks to the couple in the car Williams collided with. Linda and Jerome Barson sit amid deployed air bags in their Hyundai Accent, bleeding.

"They ran the red light," Linda Barson, 68, tells the officer. "My husband's on blood thinners, and he's bleeding," she says, visibly shaken.

"Okay, we got fire and rescue coming," the officer says.

Jerome Barson, 78, died two weeks later. His wife is now suing Williams for wrongful death, seeking unspecified damages, according to The Associated Press.

The end of the video shows an officer, whom the AP identifies as lead investigator David Dowling, interviewing Williams in her vehicle, a Toyota Sequoia SUV. Dowling sounds almost apologetic to Williams.

"Everybody's telling me the same thing: that you came out of the Steeplechase, and you kind of got stuck," he says. "You got stuck in the middle."

"I think you lost your right of way, but you were stuck in the intersection. So my report will probably say that. I'll explain exactly what happened," he says. "So I will say that you're at fault in this crash, but I'm not citing you for the crash, because I think you got stuck in the middle of the intersection. It's just one of those situations where you had the right of way, but you kind of lost the right of way."

"So in a situation like that, what do you do?" Williams asks. "Because you can't back up, because there's another person ..."

"Exactly," Dowling says. "You just got stuck in a bad situation there. So I'd just let the insurance companies work it out."

"I'm not giving you a citation, I don't feel comfortable writing a citation when I'm not a hundred percent sure, and I'm not a hundred percent sure in this case," he says.

The Palm Beach Post reports that police did not publicly acknowledge the incident until after the website TMZ broke the story on June 29, nearly three weeks after the crash. The incident remains under investigation, the AP reports; police say no fault has been assigned.

"I am devasted [sic] and heartbroken by this accident," Williams posted to Facebook on June 30. "My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of Jerome Barson and I continue to keep them in my thoughts and prayers."

The next month, Williams competed at Wimbledon, where she lost in the finals on July 15.

In a July 3 press conference, Williams struggled to answer a reporter's question about the crash. "There are really no words to describe how devastating, and yeah. I'm just completely speechless." She trailed off and began to cry. "Maybe I should go," she said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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