Yet again, a video has come to the defense of an African American accused of wrongdoing. This time, tennis star Venus Williams was deemed guilty until a surveillance video proved she acted “lawfully.”
The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department originally said Williams was at fault for a fatal car crash on June 9 involving Jerome Barson, based on witness accounts, including Barson’s wife, Linda, who was driving the vehicle at the time. Williams was accused of running a red light. The department said she failed to yield the right of way to Barson.
Williams told investigators she had “entered the six-lane intersection on a green light but had been forced to stop midpoint by traffic ahead of her. She said she did not see the Barsons’ car when she crossed into their lanes,” the Associated Press reports.
Jerome Barson, 78, died two weeks later from his injuries. His family filed a wrongful death suit against Williams last week.
In a Facebook post on June 30, Williams wrote:
Williams, 37, is currently playing in her 20th Wimbledon tennis tournament in England and has won the tournament five times. During a press conference on July 3, she was visibly distraught when a reporter asked her about the car accident:
However, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said in a statement on Friday that a newly surfaced surveillance video, taken from the entrance to the gated community where Williams lives, indicates she acted lawfully in entering the intersection before the crash when a third vehicle cut her off.
“Based on the evidence obtained in the ongoing investigation, it has been determined the vehicle driven by Venus Williams lawfully entered the intersection on a circular green traffic signal, and attempted to travel north through the intersection to Ballen Isles Drive,” the police department stated.
“As Williams was traveling through the intersection, a Nissan Altima entered the intersection traveling south, and made a left turn in front of William’s vehicle, causing her to stop advancing through the intersection to avoid a collision.
“After the Nissan had proceeded past Williams, Williams then started to proceed north through the intersection in accordance with F.S.S. 316.075 (1)(a)1.
“The vehicle driven by Linda Barson was traveling west on Northlake Boulevard, in the outside lane, approaching a steady red traffic signal. The traffic signal then cycled to green, at which time Barson continued westbound and entered the intersection.
“The front end of Barson’s vehicle collided with the right front of William’s vehicle.”
Palm Beach Gardens is an affluent enclave in South Florida. Just north of West Palm Beach, the city has more than 53,000 residents who are 89.3 percent white, 4.4 percent Black, 8.9 percent Latino, 3.1 percent Asian and less than 1 percent American Indian.
The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said on June 29 witnesses told investigators that Williams ran a red light in her Toyota SUV just as Barson’s 2016 Hyundai Accent entered the intersection on a green light.
“The driver of V2 (Linda Barson) advised she proceeded thru the intersection when V1 (Williams) cut across in front of V2, and V2 was unable to avoid crashing into V1,” according to the report.
Williams was traveling at 5 miles per hour when Barson, 67, crashed into her.
Major Paul Rogers of the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said on Friday a fuller investigation began after Barson’s death on June 22. Williams had not been cited or charged for the crash. He said police have not made a final determination of fault in the investigation.
Malcolm Cunningham, Williams’ lawyer, released the following statement on Friday:
“The update from the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department and video released today show that Venus lawfully entered the intersection on a green light and was impeded in her progress through the intersection.
“As the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department points out, once Ms. Williams entered the intersection lawfully, she had the right to proceed through the intersection and other vehicles including those with a red light changing to green, were obligated to yield the right-of-way to Ms. Williams.”
Meanwhile, Michael Steinger, the Barson family attorney, said in a statement on Friday that the surveillance video released “continues to support the fact that Ms. Williams remained in the intersection at a red light, violating the Barsons’ right of way.”