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In the days after the crash—as Woods agreed to and then called off three interviews with Florida Highway Patrol investigators—the FHP was deluged with e-mails charging that Woods's celebrity had cowed police. The highway patrol closed the case on Dec. 1, citing Woods for careless driving and fining him $164. When a week later the FHP made public that an investigating trooper had been denied a subpoena to acquire Woods's medical blood results—after being told by Elin that Woods had consumed alcohol earlier in the day and was on prescriptions for Ambien and Vicodin—it appeared Woods's fame had trumped the system.
But under Florida law, in a traffic accident Woods had no obligation to speak to police; he was only required to provide his driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. The fact that Woods's attorney, Mark NeJame, first agreed, then declined, to turn over to police any of the Woods household's surveillance videotape from the night of the crash because no one "could figure out how to get the video" might seem suspicious, but it didn't matter.
"You can't force a private citizen to turn over their own private information," says FHP spokesperson Kim Montes. "We asked as a courtesy for them to provide that to us, and they, for whatever reason, did not. They're not required." Throughout, Woods exercised his rights, as he said on Monday, "to the letter of the law."
As for the FHP's request for Woods's blood work, three lawyers versed in Florida law agree that assistant state attorney Steve Foster acted correctly in denying it. After all, no law enforcement official saw Woods behind the wheel. The FHP, the lead investigator, arrived on the scene at 3:01 a.m.—12 minutes after Woods had been taken to the hospital—and no police accompanied the ambulance. Any subsequent blood work could have been compromised and the results likely thrown out in court.
"Their investigation was doomed from the get-go, as far as proving a DUI," says Miami defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner. "He left, and they don't know if he took a drink, if he took mouthwash, if he took a pill to calm down. With a good lawyer he wouldn't say anything. So their case is essentially dead before it begins."
There was no way for Woods to know this when he moved to Isleworth in 1996, but he picked perhaps the best neighborhood possible in which to smash into a tree. Though located essentially across the street from Windermere, the tony enclave is considered a part of unincorporated Orange County and thus is policed by the Orange County Sheriff's Office. The Windermere police arrived first on the scene that night, but under a "mutual-aid" agreement with the county had no power to investigate. The case belonged to the Orange Country sheriff—except for one wrinkle. As a matter of policy Orange County does not investigate traffic accidents. The FHP does. An Orange County deputy could have trailed the ambulance, but "it was not our investigation," says sheriff's office spokesman Jim Solomons.
In a Nov. 27 interview Windermere police chief Daniel Saylor noted Elin's account of smashing the Escalade's rear windows with golf clubs and dragging Woods out; he also described Woods at the scene as incoherent. But Orange County handed the case over to the FHP as a mere traffic accident.
There is no indication of anyone aggressively investigating a violence issue in the Woods home. Woods has since denied "that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night.... Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever."
Yet Windermere officers Jason Sipos and Brandon McDonnell told investigators that, as Woods was being put in the ambulance, they were informed by one of the medical crew that "the wife could not ride with them because it was a domestic incident." Both officers stated that they had not seen anything to warrant domestic-assault suspicion, and neither asked the paramedic to explain. Nor did they inform the county officer on the scene specifically of the paramedic's statement.
The one certainty was that the case was sure to be scrutinized. Celebrity seemed to be the finger on the scale when it came time to decide whether to trail the ambulance, to try to interview Elin about a possible argument, to push hard to see what the scene would yield. As a Windermere source close to the investigation put it, "They saw it was Tiger, and no one wanted to do their job."