While the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department continued an investigation into the crash-and-roll Woods suffered while driving a borrowed SUV through a ritzy Southern California suburb, the department already had determined Woods was not impaired and that any fault for the wreck would not rise to the level of reckless driving or a misdemeanor.
“This is purely an accident,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday. “There’ll be a cause of it, and there’ll be a vehicle code attached to the cause, if it’s inattentive driving or whatever the case may be. But that’s an infraction. … An accident is not a crime.”
Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, the first responder on the scene, will lead the investigation. Gonzalez already has “all the information he needs from Mr. Woods” after speaking with him at the scene of the crash, Villanueva said.
Gonzalez found “no evidence of any impairment whatsoever,” Villanueva said. Because Woods was lucid, had no odor of alcohol and gave off no evidence of having used medication or narcotics, Gonzalez did not administer a field sobriety test or call in a drug-recognition expert to assess Woods, Villanueva said.
“He was not drunk,” Villanueva said. “Definitely, we can throw that one out. We hold everyone to the rule of law, no matter what your celebrity status is. But there was no evidence of that.”
Authorities still will seek to determine the cause of the crash. It occurred at 7:12 a.m. in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., as Woods traveled alone to a film shoot at Rolling Hills Country Club, about four miles away from the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Blackhorse Road, where Woods’s 2021 Genesis SUV hopped the median, rolled over and came to a stop in an embankment.
Since January 2020, Villanueva said, 13 accidents have occurred at the location, including four in which a driver suffered an injury. Woods was traveling northbound on Hawthorne, down a steep hill before a curve.
“Definitely, this stretch of road is challenging,” Villanueva said. “If you’re not paying attention, you can see what happens.”
Woods was driving a courtesy car from the Genesis Invitational, a tournament over the weekend in Los Angeles that Woods hosted but did not play in because he is recovering from recent back surgery.
“We’re hoping, obviously, this is going to be equipped with this black box and will have some information about the speed,” Villanueva said. “It may be a factor in this accident. You could have driver’s inattention. You could have any type of distraction like that.”
The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department’s investigation will take at least several weeks, Deputy Trina Schrader said Wednesday. The investigation, Schrader said, would seek to determine myriad factors: the speed of Woods’s car, the terrain of the pavement, whether any debris was in the road. Did an animal cause Woods to swerve? Did he fall asleep? Was he otherwise distracted?
“Just like any investigation,” Schrader said. “You have to ask eight million questions and see if you can put it all together and see if you can come to an accurate conclusion.”
The department’s investigation, like any into a car crash involving injuries, probably will include a toxicology report produced by the hospital, Schrader said. It would typically take four to six weeks for the results to come in, Schrader said, but it could take longer because of coronavirus complications.
Late Tuesday night, in the wee hours Wednesday morning on the East Coast, Woods’s representatives said he was “awake, responsive and recovering in his hospital room” at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center after emergency surgery to repair broken bones in his right leg, foot and ankle.
Woods “suffered significant orthopedic injuries,” Anish Mahajan, the chief medical officer at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said in a statement. He endured comminuted open fractures to the tibia and fibula, which means both major bones in his lower right leg broke into multiple pieces and poked through the skin, which increases the threat of infection and complicates recovery.
Doctors inserted a rod into Woods’s tibia and stabilized his foot and ankle with pins and screws. They also relieved swelling in his leg, an operation that experts said would be used to either alleviate or avoid compartment syndrome, a condition that can lead to the loss of a limb if not treated in time.
“It’s kind of the difference between a little spring rain and a hurricane,” said Scott D. Boden, the chair of the department of orthopedics at Emory University School of Medicine. Boden had no information beyond what Woods’s representatives and doctors released publicly. “In both cases, water is coming out of the sky. You can break a bone, and you can break a bone. In this case, think more the hurricane than the little afternoon shower.”
Despite the trauma, medical experts expressed cautious hope that Woods, 45, could play golf again and confidence he will return to a normal life. Woods’s potential return to competitive golf was already complicated by a recent microdiscectomy, the fifth back surgery he has undergone. But some experts believe it is feasible, if difficult to predict.
“Is he going to play elite level of sports and golf? Without knowing more of the details of the foot and ankle injuries, it’s hard to say that,” Boden said. “But if anyone could recover from this kind of a severe injury, I think it’s Tiger. I think we’ve all learned never to count Tiger out when it comes to a comeback.”
While there are many unknowns to the extent of Woods’s injuries and his recovery, Boden said the earliest Woods could return would be spring of next year — making the 2022 Masters a hazy possibility — but possibly not until 2023.
Golf, though, is a secondary concern. Barring unforeseen infections, the injuries and operations Woods endured shouldn’t prevent him from returning to his previous lifestyle, even if he cannot play at an elite level.
“From what we know, there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to walk and live a normal life,” Boden said. “There could be information we haven’t been told yet. And it certainly is a serious injury, and there are scenarios with this injury where that wouldn’t be the case.”
Within the golf world, players and officials expressed relief and gratitude that Woods had avoided a worse fate. Gonzalez, the first officer on the scene, said Tuesday that Woods was lucky to be alive. Peers who had seen pictures of Woods’s crumpled Genesis had feared for Woods’s life.
“I mean, he’s here; he’s fine,” star golfer Rory McIlroy, one of the countless current professionals inspired as a kid by Woods, said Wednesday ahead of a World Golf Championships tournament in Florida. “He’s got some pretty bad injuries, but he’s going to be okay. It’s not as if — I was looking at some of the coverage yesterday, and they were talking as if he was gone. It’s like, he was in a car crash. It was really bad, he’s very fortunate to be here, which is great, but I mean, that’s the extent of it.”
Woods has hovered over the game for nearly three decades, through unsurpassed golfing triumph and staggering personal depths. His crash marked a new phase in his public life. One day later, there was gratitude for a next chapter.
“I like to take the positives out of every situation,” golfer Xander Schauffele said. “And I think the fact that he came out alive, after taking a look at that pic of the car wreck, is sort of what I would like to take out of it.”
Chuck Culpepper contributed to this report.