Noam Mantaka was slowing to a stop on a busy corridor in Cheyenne when he got a sharp jolt to the back of his Tesla, sending his cellphone flying off the windshield hanger it had been connected to.
His car had just been rear-ended by another driver.
The driver of the other vehicle, a red Pontiac, tried to claim to police that Mantaka had brake-checked and caused the crash.
Too bad for that driver Mantaka was in a Tesla, which has built-in cameras all around the vehicle, which showed it was the other driver who slammed into Mantaka at a high rate of speed. The video also shows the driver of the Pontiac quickly switching seats with someone in the front passenger seat almost immediately after the crash.
Mantaka is thankful to have the video surveillance from his Tesla, and said he was surprised when he saw how clearly it caught the whole incident, proving the other driver was in the wrong.
“I said, ‘Oh my god,’ you can see it clearly,” Mantaka said.
Mantaka was taken to the hospital where he first learned from police that the brake checking allegation had been made against him as the cause of the crash.
“I got really aggravated about what they said,” he said.
But after later showing police the video evidence from his car, Mantaka was able to convince them the crash was no fault of his own. He said the other driver was ticketed instead.
Although he has been cleared of all guilt, Mantaka is still dealing with ongoing health issues because of the crash, such as head, back and neck pain and recurring headaches.
“Just toughing it,” he said. “I’m still suffering.”
He’s also nervous about driving again, which is a difficult predicament to have as his second job is driving for Uber.
Cheyenne Police Chief Mark Francisco said the increase of vehicles that come with live cameras and people installing their own dashboard cameras have made an impact for law enforcement.
“Anytime you can get a crime or traffic accident or someone’s picture on camera, that certainly helps in coming to a conclusion for what happened,” Francisco said.
Dash cams have been installed on police vehicles for some time, which Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak said has helped better determine who is at fault when civilians have got into crashes with police cruisers and altercations with officers during traffic stops. Francisco also mentioned an incident where a city bus with a camera was involved in a crash.
Kozak and Amber Freestone, public information officer for the Casper Police Department, encourage the public to invest in these types of products for their vehicles.
“In this increasingly tech-centered environment it makes sense that vehicle manufacturers and consumers would consider utilizing similar systems for many of the same reasons,” Freestone said.
Although the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t run into too many situations involving cameras, Kiera Grogan, public information officer for the department, said there are many semitrucks that drive the state’s interstate highways and rely on the cameras for their own protection.
Dash cams can be valuable for spotting other drivers breaking laws and to protect people against false accusations.
That’s what happened to Kozak’s daughter when she was accused of running a red light after getting in a crash in Denver.
“The camera proved that she did not run a stop sign, it was the other person’s fault,” he said.
The video evidence helped the Denver Police Department ticket the other driver for causing the incident.
Kozak said dash cameras also can have value for parents with teenagers learning how to drive as an incentive to encourage them not to use their phones while driving.
“I think it teaches them good habits young,” he said. “Those things are worth the money for sure.”
Other Crimes Too
Francisco said cellphone videos also have been used to catch people committing crimes with increasing frequency in recent years. Whenever his staff has been able to get a good quality photo of a person they are seeking, they’ll usually post it on social media, which he said results in them catching a suspect most of the time.
“Fortunately, we live and work in a community where people are willing to share that and when you share that and put it out, there are people willing to step forward and identify people,” Francisco said.
Kozak said his staff can now integrate videos from the public with their own body camera footage taken at an incident.
“We’re making it really simple because that is the technology of the future, there’s cameras everywhere,” he said. “We’re kind of welcoming that and making it easy for citizens to interact with us on that.”
Mantaka has used the camera inside his Tesla to also keep an eye on people riding in the back. He said cameras like these have been used around the world to protect taxi drivers against false accusations.
On one occasion, a particularly inebriated female started undressing while in the company of a male friend as Mantaka drove them home. No harm was done, but Mantaka will always have the record.
“They’re drunk, they’re happy, go ahead enjoy yourself as long as you’re not doing anything bad to me,” he said with a laugh. “If you’re going to do something bad to me, I have proof what happened.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.