VALLEJO, Calif. -- It's not exactly a page-turner, but "Fundamentals of Forensic Mapping" could hold someone in the glare of its headlights following the heart-stopping and tire-screeching drama of many car accidents.
The recently published 232-page book is the brainchild of Vallejo Police Department Lt. Joel Salinas whose specialty in maps, photos, diagrams and animated movies of traffic collisions has taken him the world over.
Of piecing together traffic accidents and crime scenes with measurements, photos and diagrams, Salinas said, "It's an analytical approach to solving a problem using math and the laws of physics."
For one week last year, Salinas taught 25 officers in the Columbian Army in Bogota how to document car accidents.
"It was a bit scary down there," he said, adding that police forces are so thin that officers share motorcycles.
This year, Salinas also will conduct similar training sessions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in Saudia Arabia where local police forces are so well-funded, there is nearly one officer for every city block, he said. He's also trained law enforcement in California and Nevada.
A 23-year Vallejo Police Department veteran, Salinas has always had at least one of his wheels in the patrol division.
He began his law enforcement career at the California Highway Patrol in 1984 before getting hired in Vallejo in 1988. In 2006, he started his firm, Joe Salinas & Associates, devoted to traffic accident reconstruction and forensic mapping.
Co-written with friend Kent Boots, the book is more of a manual than something one could read cover to cover.
"For the average person it's not something you can sit down and read. It's more like a car repair manual," Salinas said.
But regardless of the book's niche for technical readers, the tome is getting noticed and so is Salinas. About 500 copies have been sold so far online through its publisher, Kinetic Energy Press.
The book is a specialized, technical tome that investigators of crashes and crime scenes might delve into to figure out what really happened when the rubber went off the road. Salinas said it is the only book of its kind.
The book's principles and instructions can also be used for diagramming other crime scenes and shootings, including officer-involved incidents, Salinas said.
Besides necessary for law enforcement officials, such information is particularly sought after in court cases in which parties dispute what really happened, he said.
But despite having investigated and documented thousands of car accidents, Salinas can count the times on one hand he's been called to testify.
He said if a crash or crime-scene investigator can present a solid case, attorneys usually go for a plea rather than take the case to court. "It's all right there in black and white," he said.
Nearly every single car crash, Salinas said, is due to inattention and unsafe speed for conditions.
The most memorable and emotionally painful car crashes, regardless of their cause, involve children, he said. He gave the example of Joanie Marcos who died at a Tennessee-Sutter streets intersection in 2005. The Vallejo girl, who was 6, died after she and her older sister Sheree, then 14, were struck by a car on their way to school. Crash investigation is only part of Salinas' Vallejo Police Department duties. Because of budget cuts, a reorganization went into effect which decreased the size of his patrol division and put officers under the charge of a sergeant.
As a result, Salinas went back to patrol as a watch commander, a position which involves overseeing the day-to-day operations of the police department, responding to calls and dealing with whatever may come up, such as ill prisoners in the holding cell, he said.
After moving every three years as the son of a military man, Salinas said he was ready to put down roots when he came to work in Vallejo.
"Vallejo is a good town to live in and a great town to work in," he said.