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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
California Officials Report on 2007 Crash
Deadly Tunnel Inferno Caused By Speeding Truck
Recently, investigators concluded a truck driver speeding on a rain-slicked California interstate in 2007 lost control and smashed into a median barrier, instigating a series of chain-reaction collisions that transformed a tunnel into an inferno, leaving three people dead.
The California Highway Patrol report offers the most detailed account yet of what led to a fiery entanglement of over two dozen vehicles on Interstate 5, the main West Coast route between Mexico and Canada. The wreckage shut down the busy highway for two days and cost $17 million to clean up and mend.
The report determined that the double-trailer truck with a negligent brake was moving at over 65 mph when it jackknifed shortly after passing through a winding, poorly lit bypass tunnel on Oct. 12, 2007. The bad brake notwithstanding, the report concluded that the primary cause of the crash was the truck's excessive speed on a rainy night as it descended the mountain pass on the edge of Los Angeles. The driver, Jose Reyes, was a survivor of the tragic crash.
The report said the inclement weather also was a factor in the crash. Several vehicles behind Reyes' truck were able to stop safely, but as others approached, a series of collisions occurred, leaving wreckage over a half mile. Thirty-three trucks and a car were involved, and 26 were destroyed by fire.
Motorists were running for their lives from the 1,400-degree fire. A 6-year-old boy, Isaiah Matthew Rodriguez, who was riding in his father's truck, was among the three victims.
Saia Inc., which owned Reyes' truck, released a statement saying that the report "failed to give appropriate consideration to a number of critically important factors," not the least of which is what it called a poorly designed and maintained tunnel.
"The report fails to give adequate weight to the fact that at least 13 drivers in the tunnel were speeding and failing to maintain legally required following distances, or to the fact that four of those drivers were operating in violation of hours of service regulations," said the company. "The Saia truck did not come into contact with any other vehicles, either before, during or after its single-vehicle accident."
Officer Miguel Luevano said the CHP had no comment on the report, which repeated preliminary findings released in 2008.
Prosecutors did not file criminal charges against Reyes. The report could figure in a number of legal claims that have been filed in connection with the accident.
In 2008, an Associated Press investigation discovered that over a decade before the deadly crash, authorities cautioned that the stretch of freeway was hazardous and that steps should be taken to make it safer. Grooves were cut into the pavement to improve traction, but a state police call to routinely close the road in stormy weather was rejected and the state later raised the speed limit in the tunnel from 45 mph to 55 mph.
On a recent Friday, State Transportation Department officials did not immediately return phone calls or e-mails. Most state offices were closed on Fridays by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to ease a budget crisis. Previously, State officials have defended the safety of the stretch of highway.
Is your teen a safe driver? The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has developed a new Teen Injury Prevention course to emphasize driving safety for teenagers. For more information, including a Driver Education Book for Parents, visit www.safedriver.com.