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05.03.10

The Tiger Coverup

In an exclusive excerpt from his new book, Tiger: The Real Story, Steve Helling examines why authorities thought he was impaired at the accident scene and why he wasn’t charged with DUI despite the efforts of the police.

Minutes after Tiger Woods crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a tree, his wife Elin told police that he had been drinking. To the paramedics and cops on the scene, there was little question that Woods—who was asleep and snoring in the street—was impaired. “I would bet everything I own that he was not fit to drive,” says one of the officers who investigated the case. “But I’ll never be able to prove it, because our hands were tied. The powers that be didn’t want to tangle with Tiger; they just wanted the situation to go away.”

“I have gotten subpoenas issued with a lot less evidence than that,” said one of the officers involved in the case.

Paramedics quickly assessed Tiger’s vital signs. His blood pressure was steady; his pulse was strong. Although he was bleeding from the mouth, there was no additional sign of trauma to his head. They exchanged worried glances with the police officers. There were very few external injuries, yet Tiger had been unconscious for nearly 10 minutes. He was either impaired or he had suffered a brain injury.

A paramedic pulled Elin aside and quietly asked her if Tiger was on any medication; she responded that she knew he took some pills but didn’t know what kind. She dashed toward the house with a police officer at her heels. When she got to the front door, she turned to the officer. “Wait here, please,” she said to him as she slipped into the foyer. The officer tried to look past her into the home, but he saw nothing before she quickly closed the door. Minutes later, she emerged from the home with two brown pill bottles of prescription medication. One of them contained the sedative Ambien. The second bottle contained Vicodin, a physically and psychologically addictive narcotic analgesic used for pain management. The paramedic put the bottles in a plastic bag to transport them to the hospital along with the golfer. If Tiger were under the influence of these drugs, his driving would certainly be compromised.

A black-and-tan police cruiser from the Florida Highway Patrol pulled up to the scene. Stepping out of the vehicle, Trooper Joshua Evans joined the conversation and asked Elin if Tiger had recently consumed any alcohol. “Yes,” Elin replied. “He drank some earlier tonight." The officer made a note of it.

Police say they believed that they had enough evidence to subpoena Woods’ blood from the hospital, a routine process that occurs hundreds of times per day in Florida. They felt they could make a strong case for probable cause, and were sure that the State Attorney’s Office would agree. But officers were stunned to learn that the State Attorney was unwilling to subpoena the blood-test results. Although a spokeswoman for the office says that Woods’ celebrity status played no part in the decision, officers say that Woods’ fame—along with his high-powered legal team—protected him from being charged with a DUI.

book-cover---tiger-the-real-story
Tiger: The Real Story. By Steve Helling. 272 pages. Da Capo Press. $25. ()

Trooper Joshua Evans submitted a Request for Investigative Subpoena, asking for access to Tiger’s blood results from Health Central Hospital. In the narrative section of the request, Evans wrote, “The driver lost control of his vehicle, crashed and was transported to the hospital. A witness stated that the driver had consumed alcohol earlier in the day and the same witness removed the driver from the vehicle after the collision. Also, the same witness stated that the driver was prescribed medication (Ambien and Vicodin). Impairment of the driver is also suspected due to the careless driving that resulted in the traffic crash.”

Less than an hour later, Trooper Evans received his answer: Assistant State Attorney Steve Foster, head of the State Attorney’s Office Intake Division, denied the request. At the bottom of the form, he scrawled, “Insufficient information provided to lawfully issue subpoena.”

The refusal of the State Attorney’s Office to issue the subpoena irritated many of the officers within the Florida Highway Patrol. “I have gotten subpoenas issued with a lot less evidence than that,” said one of the officers involved in the case. “I don’t know why the subpoena wasn’t issued. I really don’t. All I know is that everything was done by the book, and I believe that subpoena should have been issued.”

Officers were further rankled when the golfer repeatedly refused to meet with them after the accident. For four days, they were denied access to Woods. Inside the precinct of the Highway Patrol, officers asked each other what Woods had to hide. But without any evidence of impairment, the FHP had no choice but to give Woods a routine traffic citation.

On Tuesday, December 1, troopers were finally able to meet with Tiger at his Isleworth home. Flanked by his lawyer and his agent, Tiger politely answered the officers’ questions and even lifted his shirt to show them his torso and abdomen. Officers observed that Tiger had a fat lip from the incident, but no other visible injuries. They issued him a $164 ticket for careless driving, which he signed and paid during the meeting. Legally, the case of Florida vs. Tiger Woods was closed.

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Steve Helling has written over a thousand articles for People magazine, including 55 cover stories. He lives in Orlando, Florida.