Column: Woods deserves privacy, but public has right to know

I’m not all that familiar with law enforcement in Los Angeles, especially at the top levels. For all I know, Sheriff Alex Villanueva might be great in reducing crime, though he does appear to be a little star struck when it comes to Tiger Woods.

After covering Woods since he turned pro, I am familiar with the people who surround him. And if the sheriff is counting on them to green light the release of information from the scene of Woods’ accident last month, well, don’t wait by the phone.

Privacy isn’t just the name of the yacht that Woods anchors in Florida. It’s the overriding philosophy followed religiously in the Woods camp since he first burst on the scene.

It hasn’t always worked, of course. No one had any idea in 2009 about the life Woods was living until he was involved in the infamous Thanksgiving weekend altercation with his now ex-wife that parted the curtain on a lot of things.

And no one would have known he was taking a smorgasbord of drugs before he was found passed out in the driver’s seat of a running car on a Florida highway in 2017.

What we do know about his latest incident is that Woods was badly injured in the single-car accident on a clear February morning just off the California coast. Woods himself gave out some details of his gruesome injuries, though not until after reports already circulated about them.

Now the sheriff says investigators know what caused the accident that hospitalized Woods for three weeks and likely ended his competitive career

The problem? He won’t release the details until Woods and his people give the OK.

“We have all the contents of the black box, we’ve got everything,” Villanueva said when asked Wednesday by The Associated Press about the status of the investigation. “It’s completed, signed, sealed and delivered. However, we can’t release it without the permission of the people involved in the collision.”

That’s a little different from a few weeks ago, when Villanueva said Woods received no special treatment and that a full report of the investigation would be forthcoming.

I presume Villanueva is erring on the side of caution when it comes to his interpretation of California privacy laws, though it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, Woods deserves privacy as he heals, but the people of California deserve something, too.

Like a full accounting of why his 5,000-pound SUV careened down a road, crossing two oncoming lanes and flipping before uprooting a tree.

It’s needed, and not just for voyeuristic reasons. At best, Woods was reckless and endangered people on a public road and the public needs to know why.

What if Woods had run into someone and killed or badly injured them? It easily could have happened had there been more traffic on the road at the time Woods’ SUV went out of control.

Would the sheriff still keep the reasons of the accident under wraps for privacy reasons?

Presuming, of course, that the cause is really known.

Looking at the black box and taking measurements of the path of the vehicle is one thing. Finding out why Woods was so inattentive to his driving is another.

Was he looking at his phone? Trying to text? Asleep? Or maybe reaching for his coffee as he hurried to an appointment?

And one we won’t know because a day after the crash Villanueva declared it was “purely an accident.’’

Was Tiger on anything?

That’s not a question tossed out simply to raise speculation. There’s a history here, and it’s a recent one.

It was just four years ago that Woods was found passed out in Florida. He was arrested, and a toxicology report later detailed he was under the influence of five different drugs, including painkillers and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Woods — who said he took the medications to relieve pain after four back surgeries — would plead guilty to reckless driving, and he got off easy. Like his accident in California, he could have killed someone while behind the wheel.

Unlike Florida, though, Woods’ blood was not drawn to find out if he was on something. Villanueva barely waited until the SUV was hauled away before declaring deputies “did not see any evidence of impairment’’ and didn’t request a warrant for a blood draw.

And now he thinks he needs the OK from Woods before telling us what happened?

Without the blood draw we may never really know the full story. The investigation was flawed from the beginning, and there’s no way to correct that.

If Woods has some sort of medical incident that caused him to lose control, say so. There are ways to do that without invading his privacy.

But if the sheriff has reached some sort of conclusion in a case involving one of the most famous athletes in the world, he shouldn’t need Woods’ permission to tell us what it is.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] or