Newly released body cam video shows a police officer telling Venus Williams she was at fault for an accident in which a man died from his injuries.
“You were at fault,” a Palm Beach Gardens police officer told Williams in one of four body-camera video files police released Thursday.
Officer David Dowling said he won’t ticket Williams, saying, “You just got stuck in a bad situation there.”
Williams responds, “In a situation like that, what are you going to do?”
Jerome Barson, 78, the passenger in the second vehicle, is seen in the video saying, “I’m a little confused.” He died two weeks later. His widow, Linda, now is suing Williams.
Police at first declared Williams at fault in the June 9 crash outside the entrance to BallenIsles Country Club, the gated community where she owns a home. They later said she lawfully entered the intersection. The crash remains under investigation.
Williams has told police she had a green light when she left Steeplechase, a community on the south side of Northlake Boulevard, in her 2010 Toyota Sequoia and had to stop in the middle of Northlake for traffic.
By the time Williams thought it was safe to drive, she said, the light for westbound traffic on Northlake turned to green from red.
Linda Barson, the 68-year-old driver of a Hyundai Accent, said Williams cut in front of her and Barson couldn’t avoid hitting her. Williams told police she never saw Barson coming. Video released by police July 7 shows a third car, a Nissan Altima, leaving BallenIsles. The Altima turned left in front of Williams, forcing her to stop to avoid a crash. Police still are trying to identify the Altima driver nearly two months after the wreck.
In one of four 911 calls police also released Thursday, a motorist says, “These people need help.” At the end of the call, she tells the dispatcher she’s 95 percent sure that “one of the people in this accident is one of the Serena sisters … the Williams. And unfortunately she was at fault.” Serena Williams, another star in women’s tennis, is Venus Williams’ sister and also lives in Palm Beach Gardens.
The earliest of the videos released Thursday shows Officer Tim Connors walking up to the crash and finding Williams out of her car.
“Are you involved?” he asked Williams, who was dressed in a white skirt and T-shirt and ball cap. “I am,” she says. Connors asks if the people in the other vehicle are OK and Williams says, “I think so.”
Connors then walks to the other car and has to pull away the activated driver’s air bag to get to Linda Barson.
“Someone -- they ran a red light. They ran the red light,” she said. “My husband’s on blood thinners and he’s bleeding.”
Connors tells her “Fire Rescue’s coming.” The woman mentions an arm injury and Connors tells her to put pressure on it and “try not to move it.” He then tells the Barsons, “It looks like that other car might have violated your right of way.”
Connors then approaches a woman who appears to have been the 911 caller. She “It’s one of the Williams (sisters) that is in the accident,” the woman said. “She was coming out of Steeplechase. It was coming out. Her light had turned red.”
Connors again approaches Williams. “You’re sure you’re fine?” Williams nods. He asks if anyone else is in the car. Just her dog, she says. He asks if the dog was thrown; Williams says no.
Moments later, Connors tells someone off-camera, “Yes, she is,” apparently confirming it’s Williams. Then, asked if anyone’s hurt, he says: “She’s not. The other people are.”
After Williams has returned to her car the other officer, Dowling, tells her on his body-camera video that she’s at fault but he won’t cite her.
“You just got stuck in a bad situation there. Let the insurance companies work it out,” Dowling says. “I don’t feel comfortable writing you a citation when I’m not 100 percent sure, and I’m not 100 percent sure in this case.”
Williams says, “I never saw that car coming, so I don’t know if they...I don’t think they stopped at the red light.”
Dowling explains that because of the changing traffic light, “You kind of violated his right of way.”
Nothing in any of the videos conclusively says whether the Barsons were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, although Linda Barson appears to have a seat belt that is unbuckled but still stretched across her lap when the first officer approaches her car.
This week, lawyers for Williams said in a court filing that Barson wouldn’t have died if he had worn a seat belt. The police crash report says Barson and his wife both wore a belt across both lap and shoulder, and lawyers for Barson said this week his car’s “black box” says the same thing. Lawyers for Williams did not respond to inquiries made this week by The Palm Beach Post.
At the end of one video, Dowling, now in his patrol car, tells Connors “if any media show up, I need you to keep them away. Keep them back. Don’t let them in the scene.”
Connors asks, “What makes you think any of them are coming?” Dowling says: “They already got an email. A station. I want to get them out of here as quick as we can so we can beat the media.”
Police did not publicly acknowledge the crash until after the TMZ broke the story on June 29, three weeks after the crash and a week after Jerome Barson died on June 22.
Conner Mitchell, Palm Beach Post and Jorge Milian, Palm Beach Post contributed to this story.