MADISON (WKOW) — A fatal crash on Madison’s west side continues to be suspected, but the incident already reinforces challenges in keeping the city’s traffic cameras operable.
Authorities say the driver of a Pontiac Grand Prix crossed a median on Pleasant View Road near Flagstone Drive Sunday, knocked down a light pole, slammed into a power pole then caught fire.
The mother of Isabel Brings, 20, of Verona identifies her as the victim.
Family members don’t believe Brings was racing at the time of the crash, but suspect others driving recklessly could have forced Briggs into unsafe maneuvers. Madison police officials want to speak with the drivers of at least two vehicles believed to be in the area at the time of the crash.
“The camera at Midtown [Road] caught a video image,” said Steve Snyder, who’s a member of the victim’s household. “Black SUV, black truck.”
Police officials have publicized still images of the video of the SUV and truck in search of more information.
Just south of the crash scene at McKee Road, there’s also a city-operated traffic camera, but Madison Traffic Engineering Operations and Safety Manager Tim Mohr said the camera was inoperable on the night of the crash. He said the camera has not worked for weeks.
Mohr estimated 10% of the more than two hundred city-operated, public digital cameras are not working at any given time. Mohr said it’s not uncommon for an inoperable camera to be out-of-service for weeks.
Traffic Engineer Yang Tao heads up Madison Traffic Engineering, and he said traffic signal and road work has increased with the city’s growth. He said that work has significant safety implications and receives priority over camera repair or replacement.
Tao said supply chain issues have held up necessary components for city camera repair and upgrade. He also said department personnel are stretched thin trying to accomplish tasks.
“A lot more work than we can handle,” Tao said in describing the situation to 27 News. “We have to prioritize things.”
Tao emphasized city-operated cameras fall under the supervision of several departments, although Traffic Engineering will address issues with any camera if they’re considered urgent. Tao said many cameras in the system are simultaneously reaching the end of their utility.
“We recognize the issue and we collaborate with our IT department,” he said.
City of Madison Information Technology Department Chief Information Officer Sarah Edgerton said a comprehensive program will improve the camera system’s sustainability.
“The Camera Lifecycle Management Program provides Information Technology and Traffic Engineering allocated funding for routine camera equipment replacement,” Edgerton said.
Edgerton said the city’s 2023 capital budget includes funding to support digital camera operations.
“This program supports the replacement and maintenance of the City’s digital security cameras and the City’s traffic cameras. The goal of this program is to maintain a strong and secure digital camera network. The funding allocation will be distributed between Information Technology to support the City’s digital security cameras and Traffic Engineering to support the City’s traffic cameras,” she said. City data shows funding’s been approved to support sustaining the city-placed public cameras through 2028.
The use of video from city-operated cameras in Madison Police investigations has become more common. Video has been credited in helping to solve crimes from car theft and battery to sexual assault.
The absence of video from crime scenes despite the presence of city-operated cameras is not limited to Sunday’s crash. Police officials said a camera on Regent Street was inoperable during an alleged attack on an Uber driver following a 2019 Badger football game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Tao said he’s confident a more reliable system of city-operated cameras lies ahead.
“I do believe things are going to get a lot better,” Tao said.