From the Department of Not-Shocking Statements: Bobby Petrino’s explanation for why he wrecked his motorcycle is a complete lie.
What I’m referring to, of course, is Petrino’s statement to the investigating officer from the State Police that the wreck was “because of sun and wind,” which caused him to be unable to “maneuver the turn.” On first glance, this statement seems to jive with the report, which lists Petrino as traveling west in the westbound lane. Obviously, at least for anyone living in flatter parts of the state, heading west at 6:30 p.m. on a relatively clear April day is going to subject you to some bright sunshine. Seems legit.
Until you actually look at the road, that is.
For one thing, Petrino was heading “west” only in the most nominal sense of the word. The stretch of Highway 16 where the wreck occurred run 334-degrees NW, which is just another way of saying “damn near due north.” A quick look at U.S. Navy’s calculator, however, shows us that the azimuth (the angle of the sun relative to north for a given time and location) for around where Petrino crashed was about 266.6-degrees SW. [Note: the calculator does not use Daylight Savings Time, so you have to look at the 17:30 entry for 6:30 local time on April 1.]
Knowing that, we can plot these angles on a highway map.
Click to enlarge that picture. The red arrow is Petrino’s trajectory. The yellow line is the angle of the sun relative to Petrino’s position. You can then see that Petrino, even after taking a slight curve that brought him to the 334-degree NW trajectory, was in no danger of having the sun hit him in the eyes. In fact, the sun was over 70 degrees toward his left shoulder, if Petrino was looking straight ahead on the motorcycle. Assuming that Petrino’s eyes were looking toward the next curve (a slight right), the sun’s angle would have been on the very fringes of normal human peripheral vision. But, hey, maybe having that sunlight in the periphery distracted him, right?
Maybe . . . if the sun hadn’t already been too low in the sky to cause a problem for him at that moment.
See, if we go back to the Navy’s calculator, we can see that the angle of the sun relative to the horizon at 6:30 p.m. on April 1, 2012, was 13.2 degrees. But, as we see in the photos of the scene, the west side of the highway has a wall of trees. If we were being really kind to Petrino, pretending like the sun was directly in line with that safety marker (which it absolutely, positively was not) and pretending like the land around the crash site was perfectly flat, we can use the measurements in the police report and figure out how high the sun would have to be to cause a problem there.
First, we can use the measurements on the crash side of the road to figure out the distance between where Petrino left the highway and the safety marker by the culvert on the other side of the road.
(Crash site image from FriendOfTheProgram.Net.) Then, using the highway safety marker as a guide, and conservatively estimating that the marker is about 5′ high, the trees appear to be at least 75′ tall at this point. Using our two known measurements and a right angle, we can calculate the angle to the top of the tree from the spot where he left the highway.
That gives us an angle of just about 31 degrees. The pink line in that picture shows roughly where the sun would be based on the actual angle at the time of the crash. Obviously, the sun is large enough that it would not have to be all the way above the trees to cause a problem, so we can revise our measurements downward further, again for the sake of giving Petrino the benefit of the doubt, and we can still see that the sun would need to be at least 25 degrees above the horizon right there to be a problem. With the sun at 13.2 degrees (the pink line), the trees would have blocked all but the occasional sunbeam coming from that direction.
Of course, the sun was not in that position, as we’ve already demonstrated. It was further to Petrino’s left. That’s even worse for his version of the story; back to the left of Petrino’s bike, the mountain on which he and his passenger were driving increases elevation markedly.
It looks to me like the mountain increases nearly 200 feet in height over a span of about 2000 feet in that direction. On top of which, there are of course more of the same very tall trees. Assuming that the trees to Petrino’s left were not closer than the trees out in front of him in our previous example, the sun would have to be not only at the 25-degree incline needed to clear the treetops but, also, would have to be higher to account for the mountain that those trees were sitting on. (And, if the trees to Petrino’s left were closer to him that the trees in front of him, the angle would be steeper still.)
Petrino apologists will likely point to the “manuever the turn” statement and suggest that Petrino was talking about the previous curve, as if the sun/wind caused him to get wide coming out of that turn and just continue off the road. To that, I say simply that, until he had navigated the curve, Petrino was traveling NE, not NW. Given that we’ve just shown that the sun would not have been a problem after successfully navigating the previous curve and turning back to the west, it follows logically that the sun was absolutely not a problem when Petrino was not even driving in a westerly direction.
Speaking of the wind, however, that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny either. According to Weather Underground, winds in Madison County on April 1 around the time of the crash were under 15 mph, and they were coming out of the South. With Petrino’s more-or-less northerly trajectory at the time of the crash, a 15 mph tailwind would not have been a problem, especially not in terms of prevent him from turning the bike further to his left.
In short, there’s is simply no way in the world that, on that stretch of highway, at that time of day/year, Bobby Petrino was blinded by the sun, causing him to wreck. It’s not just unlikely; it’s mathematically impossible. It’s similarly ridiculous to suggest that a little tailwind somehow caused any problems driving the motorcycle. Am I shocked that Petrino would lie to try to cover up having the girl with him? Not in the least.
I am, however, shocked that people would be so concerned with the success of Hog football in 2012 that they’d happily turn a blind eye to a man who lied to police about the cause of his wreck, tried to cover up the existence of a passenger, and (it would seem) tried to use his influence as head coach to essentially have public records altered to reflect something other than the truth. It’s one thing to hire a guy who has a record as a sleazeball; it’s another thing entirely to let him think he’s above the law and above what’s best for the university as a whole.