L.A. County Sheriff's officers investigate an accident involving famous golfer Tiger Woods along Hawthorne Blvd. in Ranch Paos Verdes, California Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS) L.A. County Sheriff's officers investigate an accident involving famous golfer Tiger Woods along Hawthorne Blvd. in Ranch Paos Verdes, California Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Tiger Woods crash was ‘purely an accident,’ no charges planned, sheriff says 

The rollover crash on a steep road in Rancho Palos Verdes that badly broke legendary golfer Tiger Woods’ leg and may have jeopardized his career was an accident, and no criminal charges will be filed against Woods, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday.

“This is purely an accident,” Villanueva said at a news conference.

The “black box” from Woods’ SUV will provide investigators with information on how fast he was driving when he lost control just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, Villanueva said.

Villanueva had previously said Woods’ vehicle was traveling at a “relatively greater speed than normal” when it crossed the center divider and rolled over, landing about 30 yards up a hillside.

Investigators did not yet have information on whether Woods was distracted when he crashed, but “we’ll find out,” Villanueva said, adding that Woods’ cellphone records could be relevant.

Woods underwent “a long surgical procedure” on his right leg, foot and ankle on Wednesday.

Doctors inserted a rod into his leg and placed screws into his foot and ankle, according to a statement posted to Twitter, which described Woods as “awake, responsive and recovering.”

Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where Woods was treated, described “comminuted open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portions of the tibia and fibula bones,” adding that trauma to the muscle and soft tissue of Woods’ leg required “surgical release of the covering of the muscles to relieve pressure due to swelling.”

It is unclear how long Woods will remain in the hospital or how his condition may affect his golf comeback.

Woods was the sole occupant of a 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV that was traveling north on Hawthorne Boulevard at Blackhorse Road when he crashed just after 7 a.m., authorities said. The vehicle sustained major damage, and Woods had to be extricated from the wreckage by personnel from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, sheriff’s officials said.

Villanueva noted Tuesday that the area had “a high frequency of accidents.” The sheriff said there were no skid marks or signs of braking and that the golfer’s vehicle hit the center divider, a curb and a tree in the rollover crash.

Villanueva said there was no evidence at the scene that Woods was impaired, a point he reiterated Wednesday.

Aerial images of the crash site showed Woods’ vehicle lying about 30 yards off the road on its side. The wooden “Welcome to Rolling Hills Estates” sign that had been in the median strip was obliterated. There was a license plate and fluid on the southbound side of the road, and Woods’ SUV narrowly missed a telephone pole as it careened up the hillside.

The PGA star was in Los Angeles as the host of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, a golf tournament that concluded Sunday. He did not play in the event, as he was recovering from his fifth back surgery, but told CBS announcer Jim Nantz in an interview during the final round that he hoped to play in the Masters in April.

“God, I hope so. I’ve got to get there first,” Woods said in the interview. “A lot of it is based on my surgeons and doctors and therapist and making sure I do it correctly. This is the only back I’ve got; I don’t have much more wiggle room left.”

Woods stayed in Los Angeles County after the Genesis Invitational to participate in a two-day content shoot with Golf Digest/GolfTV. Although he did not hit balls or play any holes Monday, a smiling Woods was with retired NBA star Dwyane Wade and comedian David Spade — both of whom documented it on social media — at Rolling Hills Country Club. Part of the shoot involved Woods giving lessons on the course to celebrities.

A source familiar with the investigation said Woods was staying at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes and had left there early Tuesday to head to the Rolling Hills Country Club, about 20 minutes away, for filming. Golf Digest confirmed that Woods was on his way back to the country club for an additional photo and video shoot when the crash occurred.

The crash occurred on a curvy, steep stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard, a major road that cuts through the Palos Verdes Peninsula where signs warn trucks to use lower gears when traveling downhill.

Neighbors say the area has been the scene of many accidents over the years.

Investigators were trying to determine whether any other vehicles were on the road at the time and might have played a role in the crash. Data can also be extracted from the vehicle’s computer system, officials said.

Dr. Gregory Tennant, an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana, said in an interview Wednesday morning that fractures were categorized as “open” or “closed” depending on whether the bone had come through the skin.

In Woods’ case, Tennant said, a “comminuted open fracture” would imply that the bone did penetrate the skin and broke into multiple pieces that might include bone shards.

Picture “smashing like an egg,” he said, “as opposed to the breaking of a stick.”

Tennant, who did not treat Woods but has extensive experience treating similar injuries, said the rods, screws and pins used to stabilize the golfer’s injuries were often intended to remain in the body for life, although there are some instances where they can be removed. Woods’ treatment also required the surgical release of muscle coverings to relieve pressure caused by swelling — a typical procedure for a condition called “impending compartment syndrome,” Tenant said, which can occur in “high-energy injuries” such as car accidents.

“It’s almost an out-of-control inflammation within the muscle and soft tissue around the fracture site,” he said, noting that the soft-tissue layer that wraps around different leg muscles can act like a tourniquet or “very strong Saran Wrap” that can cut off blood flow.

One or two incisions along the length of the leg can allow the muscle to expand and release the pressure.

“If you don’t do that, and you develop a true compartment syndrome that’s not recognized,” he said, “you could lose your leg, or all of the muscle and nerves [below the knee] could be permanently damaged or die.”

Woods’ road to recovery is likely long, Tennant said. Treatment in the initial days would typically involve antibiotics and monitoring for infection and blood flow. In the next six to nine months, the focus will likely be on bone and wound healing, followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation.

“My expectation would be that I wouldn’t anticipate him up and walking around for a while,” Tenant said.

Although the majority of the injuries described by Woods’ doctors were in his lower extremities, the golfer had recently undergone his fifth back surgery. It’s possible that the accident will affect that part of Woods’ body as well.

“Trauma is never truly an isolated event,” Tennant said. “It is not uncommon to identify injuries — even significant injuries — days later, as the initial high-energy injuries are dealt with.”

Woods is in excellent hands at Harbor-UCLA, which handles these kinds of injuries all the time, Tennant said. And his track record as a dedicated, elite athlete could help in his recovery.

“Tiger Woods has been a winner his whole life, and one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t bet against winners,” Tennant said. 

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