This week DuPage County Judge Robert Kleeman found a man from Hanover Park, Illinois (Driver 1), guilty of 3 felonies in connection with a multi-vehicle crash in January of 2014 that killed one man and severely injured another, who suffered third-degree burns over 15 % of his body. The man who was burned spent 3 months in a hospital burn unit.
At trial, prosecutors presented evidence proving Driver 1 had been driving or on duty far in excess of the hours allowed by federal regulations and that he had fallen asleep right before the crash. In fact, he told the Illinois State Police that he “must have fallen asleep” at the time of the accident.
The judge found that in 26 hours he had been driving or on duty for at least 18, and possibly more than 20. Federal law says an interstate commercial truck driver is limited to 11 hours behind the wheel over a 14-hour period.
The enormity of this tragedy is staggering. This truck driver knew he had not had enough sleep when he got behind the wheel of a semitrailer truck weighing 51,620 pounds, including 3 steel coils, each weighing 14,580 pounds. He put money ahead of human life.
NTSB Evidence of Traffic Violations and Negligence
These trucks are obviously dangerous, yet FMCSA let this driver just keep on trucking, putting everyone on the road at risk.
This is what the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had to say:
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations (FMCSA) Safety Measurement System, at the time of the accident, the carrier in operation of the Freightliner combination vehicle, DND International of Naperville, IL, had alerts in 2 of the 5 BASIC categories on which a carrier is measured. An alert indicates to the FMCSA that the carrier exceeds an intervention threshold, and is prioritized for intervention action, based on violations documented during roadside inspections. The alerts for DND International were in the areas of unsafe driving and hours of service compliance.
The Crash Report
The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) investigated this crash at the urging of Senator Dick Durbin. The information below is from NTSB documents2,3.
On January 27, 2014, a Volvo truck-tractor in combination with an intermodal chassis and container semitrailer was traveling east on Interstate 88 (I-88 Reagan Memorial Tollway), near Naperville, in DuPage County, Illinois. The engine quit, and the truck stopped in the right lane. An Illinois State Toll Highway Authority flatbed help truck and an Illinois State Police Ford Crown Victoria patrol car stopped behind the Volvo to help and warn other drivers of the blocked lane. A Naperville Towing Services heavy duty tow truck stopped in front of and hooked up to the Volvo.
Before the accident, the help truck and police car turned on their emergency lights. In addition, flares were placed in the road around the disabled Volvo. These measures warned oncoming traffic to slow down and move to another lane.
About 9:20 p.m., a Freightliner and flatbed semitrailer combination vehicle, driven by Renato Velasquez (the driver that was convicted this week), was traveling in the eastbound right lane of I-88 toward the stopped vehicles. Driver 1 failed to yield, not slowing down or moving over. He was hauling 3 steel coils weighing 43,740 pounds, 14,580 pounds each.
The Freightliner combination vehicle first hit the patrol car from behind, pushing it off into the right shoulder and ditch. It then collided with the help truck.
During the collision, all three steel coils on the flatbed trailer being pulled by the Freightliner became detached. One of them made contact with the help truck, pushing it with great force into the back of the Volvo combination vehicle, which then rear ended the heavy duty tow truck.
As a result of the accident, the patrol car started on fire, severely burning the driver. The 39-year-old driver of the help truck was fatally injured.
Tougher Laws Needed to Prevent Tragedy
This crash highlights the need for longer sentences for truck drivers who violate the federal hours-of-service regulations. A 50,000 pound vehicle is a weapon of mass destruction on the road. When a truck driver intentionally drives one without enough sleep and kills or critically injures someone, that person should face years in prison, not just 1 to 3 years, as in this case.
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