BATAVIA, Ohio (AP) — On a twisty, snow-lined hill that the locals call “Devil’s Backbone,” a 12-ton semi-trailer came loose from its tractor and plowed into an oncoming line of pre-dawn commuters.
At 40 miles per hour, the trailer struck the side of one pickup truck and careened head-on into another, killing the drivers of both vehicles.
At first the Jan. 24, 2014, crash on U.S. 50 in Cincinnati’s eastern suburbs drew only the attention of Ohio authorities, who faulted the semi driver for not properly inspecting the hitch that holds the trailer to the tractor. But 17 months later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has raised the possibility that the hitch was defective.
On June 9, the agency began investigating a potentially high rate of trailer separations for the hitch involved in the crash — the “Ultra LT” made by Fontaine Fifth Wheel of Trussville, Alabama. Fontaine says it is cooperating with the probe.
The Ultra LT could be in use on as many as 6,000 semis across the nation.
Given the nearly 1 ½-year gap between the crash and the investigation, the safety agency could face renewed criticism for failing to analyze its own data to uncover a safety problem — the same failure that delayed recalls of defective General Motors ignition switches and faulty Takata air bags.
Although the agency’s new administrator says reforms are underway, one frequent critic of NHTSA sees remnants of an old problem. “(The Fontaine case) sounds like an artifact of what we used to see from the agency over time, an inability to connect the dots,” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies.
Kane says the agency needs to move quickly given the number of semis using the Ultra LT hitches.
The agency says it acted properly, opening the investigation after Fontaine said it wanted to replace all 6,000 hitches for unspecified “non-safety” reasons.
The agency investigated the hitches once before, in 2011, after Fontaine issued a service bulletin. NHTSA found 12 complaints about the hitches, plus one crash with no injuries. Truck companies Freightliner, Kenworth, Volvo and Mack recalled 2,400 tractors to replace a bar that locks a pin from the trailers to the hitch.
NHTSA said Fontaine made a design change at that time to prevent the problem from occurring in future products.
In 2012, Fontaine revealed another problem with the Ultra LTs in a second service bulletin, but the agency decided the issue didn’t warrant an investigation.
As required by law, Fontaine notified NHTSA of the Cincinnati-area crash in August of last year, as did the truck’s maker, Navistar. Fontaine subsequently submitted reports that blamed the crash on an improper hookup by the driver, so the agency didn’t pursue the matter further.
Once Fontaine said it wanted to replace the hitches, NHTSA decided to act. Agency spokesman Gordon Trowbridge says the investigation will “determine if the service bulletin, the fatal crash and the plan to replace all of the fifth wheels (hitches) have a common safety-related root cause.”
Fontaine has until July 24 to turn over communications on the Ohio crash and other information.
Steve Mann, vice president of engineering for Fontaine, which is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., says in a statement that the company analyzes data to help ensure “safety and reliability.” NHTSA said in documents that Fontaine believes operator error caused the Devil’s Backbone crash.
Before he drove on the hill that frigid January morning, Michael Simpson tried to hook his grocery trailer to a tractor at a truck yard north of Cincinnati. Three times, it didn’t latch, he told police. It locked on the fourth try, and Simpson drove a short distance to make sure. He checked again while en route to an IGA store, saying he was “concerned.”
Then, about 6:30 a.m., as he was climbing Devil’s Backbone, the trailer came loose. It tore across the side of Michael Brown’s Chevy Silverado, killing the 43-year-old father of three. Then it hit Shawn Wilson’s Dodge Ram head-on, killing the 39-year-old father who had one daughter.
“It was a terrible accident. Just so sad,” said Kathy Sabo, who saw it happen while driving to work and tried to help victims.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol investigated, finding that the hitch didn’t lock due to a combination of the minus 4 degree temperature and a buildup of frozen grease on the pin and receiver.
Days after the crash, tests showed the hitch worked just fine. Sgt. Charlie Scales, a reconstruction expert, says Simpson would have spotted the loose connection if he had properly inspected the hitch.
Simpson, now 62, was convicted earlier this year of vehicular manslaughter, a misdemeanor. His commercial driver’s license was suspended for 90 days and he got a year’s probation. His attorney in a lawsuit stemming from the crash wouldn’t comment.
Scales says loose trailers and a lack of proper visual inspections by truckers are common. But in most cases, an unhitched trailer stops safely and is re-attached to the truck, he says.
Krisher reported from Detroit.
Before four people were killed and two others were injured, conditions were ripe for the tragedy that befell them Tuesday on U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County, authorities said.
It was foggy and dark when a trailer became detached and came to rest in the middle of the highway about 5:55 a.m. By the time drivers could peer through the fog to see the trailer blocking the road, it was too late to stop, and multiple crashes resulted.
The first of three vehicles, a 2008 Ford Focus, crashed when it tried to avoid the trailer about six miles south of South Bay, a city just west of Belle Glade in western Palm Beach County.
The Focus hit the trailer in its right rear corner. Then a 2012 Ford F-150 pickup truck hit the trailer’s left rear corner. The pickup’s driver, Douglas A. Brinker, 54, of Labelle, was not injured.
Moments later, an oncoming tractor-trailer hit the Focus, sending both into a swampy area near the side of the highway.
Carolina Ortiz, 39, who was driving the Focus, and passengers Luis Arturo Varona, 17, Alejandro Varona, 16, and Melissa Carolina Varona, 14, all of Miami, were killed. A fifth person in the car was taken to Delray Medical Center in serious condition, Wysocky said.
Emad Said Daashoush, 55, of Tampa, who was driving the oncoming tractor-trailer, was taken to Lakeside Hospital with minor injuries, Wysocky said.
The Florida Highway Patrol is working to determine how the trailer became detached.
Investigators will “be going through the truck and conducting a post inspection… to see if the truck had any issues and what the problem was,” said FHP spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky. Charges could be filed pending an investigation.
Roberto Pelaez Rodriguez, 23, of West Palm Beach, an independent contractor for the Okeelanta Sugar Mill, had left the mill when about a mile away, his trailer detached, Wysocky said.
“I don’t know how long it took him to turn around when he realized [the trailer detached]; he did come back to the scene,” Wysocky said.
The mill is owned by Florida Crystals. Marianne Martinez, a spokeswoman with Florida Crystals, told Sun Sentinel news partner WPEC-Ch. 12 that the company couldn’t provide additional information amid the law enforcement investigation. But Martinez said, “Our thoughts are with all of those involved and their families.”
At the crash site, first responders reported finding the heavily damaged vehicles, as well as people trapped inside them, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Albert Borroto said. Firefighters used tools to cut the vehicles and free the occupants, he said.
The detached trailer left divots in the road, requiring asphalt to be put down before the road was reopened hours later. Meanwhile, traffic on U.S. 27 was shut down in both directions.
The northbound lanes were adjusted to serve as the northbound and southbound lanes for morning commuters while the southbound lanes remained closed. All lanes reopened at about 2:30 p.m.
Jose Reyes, 38, a truck driver from the Redland in Miami-Dade, was among those stuck in traffic on U.S. 27. Many drivers were seen standing and waiting outside their vehicles for miles.
Reyes said he didn't mind.
Reyes said he drives down the highway about four times a week but he has never seen a crash that bad. As he drove by, he saw two tractor-trailers off the road. He also saw one mangled vehicle that was missing its roof.
“I was just thinking about the deceased,” Reyes said. “It must be really hard for their families.”
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By Kim Tran (Patch Staff) December 6, 2013 at 3:31am
A man was killed on
Interstate 280 at Exit 1W on Tuesday when he hit a trailer that became loose from its
tractor-trailer, state police said.
incident occurred at about 2 p.m. Tuesday in the left lane of I-280 West at the exit for New Road
in Parsippany, State Police Lt. Stephen Jones said.
Steven Peltz, 51 of Flanders, was in a Honda behind a 2007 Western Star tractor-trailer driven by Craig Wallenstein.
“When the trailer became detached from the truck, the Honda struck the trailer,” said Jones, who also confirmed that Peltz was pronounced dead at the scene and Wallenstein had no injuries.
I-280 West was shut down for about four hours for the investigation and the State Police Commercial Vehicle inspection team arrived at the scene to investigate further on how the trailer became loose, said Jones. The trailer was impounded for further inspection.
No summonses were issued as of Thursday afternoon.
Since then, a GoFundMe project has since been set up for Peltz, the "husband and father of two, (who) tragically lost his life in an auto accident on his way home from work" and those who would like to donate to help the family can do so at this website.
You can also mail a check made out to: Donna Peltz
9 Rawlings Court
Ledgewood, NJ 07852
By Lorenzo Ferrigno and Josh Levs, CNN
Updated 2:39 PM ET, Thu May 30, 2013
A trailer came unhitched from a truck near Syracuse, New York, on Wednesday, and slammed into an approaching minivan, killing seven people, authorities said.
Four of the dead were children from two families, police said.
The one survivor from the van is Shawn Mead, whose children Alyssa, 7 and Tyler, 4, died in the crash. He's in a hospital, and the extent of his injuries are not yet known, police said.
Teresa Bush, 26 and her two daughters Jasmine, 5, and Alexis, 4, died in the crash, along with Lena Beckwith, 21, and Carino Vanorden, 24. It was not immediately clear how the adults may have been related.
The two people on board the truck -- Ryan Dorward, 26, and Duane Newton, 44 -- were unharmed.
Authorities do not know what caused the trailer to come loose. Storms and hail were reported in the area Wednesday evening, but Sheriff's Lt. Robert Derksen told CNN affiliate YNN Syracuse that weather was not believed to be a factor.
The station also reported that the trailer was carrying about 20 crushed cars to a dump.
The crash took place on a rural highway in the town of Truxton, said Capt. Mark Helms of the Cortland County Sheriff's Department.
Autopsies are being conducted Thursday and Friday, coroner Whitney Meeker said.
Two young women embrace after leaving a rose wreath at the site of the fatal car crash that killed seven along Route 13 in Truxton on Wednesday, May 30, 2013. Four children and three adults were killed when their minivan was hit by a trailer that became disconnected from its hitch. The trailer slammed into a minivan with eight people inside. Four children under the age of 8 and three adults in their early 20s were killed. One man survived the crash. (Associated Press/Photo/Heather Ainsworth)
By syracuse.com | The Post-Standard
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on June 02, 2013 at 8:28 AM, updated June 07, 2013 at 5:16 PM
By John O'Brien and Marnie Eisenstadt
Safety mechanisms on all tractor-trailers are supposed to prevent accidents like the one that killed seven people in Cortland County this week, according to experts.
Sheriff's investigators determined a broken locking mechanism on the tractor part of the rig caused the crash Wednesday on a bend in Route 13 in Truxton. The trailer came unhinged and veered into the opposite lane, smashing into a minivan carrying eight people.
Four of the dead were children between the ages of 4 and 7.
Tractor-trailers are required to have "fifth wheel" coupling mechanisms to ensure that the trailer is locked onto the tractor, according to Rick Gunn, a licensed tractor-trailer inspector in Virginia.
The trailer has a steel pin 3 inches thick and 6 inches long. A spring-loaded lock on the tractor, shaped like a horseshoe, locks around the pin when the driver backs the tractor under the trailer, Gunn said.
Gunn said he's occasionally seen the spring in the lock break so the mechanism can't click into place over the steel pin. But if that happens, the driver should be alerted to the problem during a safety check that's supposed to happen before every trip, Gunn said.
After hooking up the trailer, the driver is supposed to check the lock by pulling a 2-foot handle on the fifth wheel. If that handle pulls loose, the the trailer wasn't locked in place, Gunn said.
"If there's a mechanical problem, he should be able to realize it," he said. "Once he pulls that handle and it comes loose, he should say, 'I want a new truck.'"
Even if a trailer does come unhinged, they're equipped with air brakes that are supposed to automatically stop the trailer, said Bernie Elder, a former tractor-trailer inspector in Pennsylvania.
Cortland County sheriff's investigators found no skid marks on the
pavement, Capt. Mark Helms said. That could indicate the trailer brakes
didn't work for some reason, Elder said.
Air hoses run from the tractor to the trailer. As soon as the hoses break, the air brakes on the trailer would deploy, Elder said. If it's a dual-axle trailer, it would have four air brakes, he said.
"It would be a phenomenal event if none of those brakes came on," Elder said.
Gunn had a possible explanation. After the trailer became unhinged,
the 15- to 20-foot hoses might not have broken until after the nose of
the trailer hit the pavement, which could've caused the trailer to flip
and render the brakes useless, he said.
Elder was perplexed at how such an accident could happen.
The state Department of Transportation governs tractor-trailers so carefully that there's a very small number of mechanical failures, he said.
"You see very few failures in the millions and millions of miles on those vehicles," Elder said. "It's almost got to be some kind of mechanical failure that couldn't be foreseen."
A 2007 report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that 87 percent of all crashes involving large trucks were caused by human error. Problems with the trucks, such as maintenance issues or mechanical failures, caused about 10 percent of the crashes.
Trailers almost never come unhinged from tractors, said Kendra Hems, president of the New York Motor Truck Association.
"It's not something we hear about," she said. "I don't have any other cases to point you toward."
The seven killed
When the trailer broke free Wednesday on Route 13 in Truxton, the
trailer hauling thousands of pounds of scrapped cars swung loose and
slammed into the 1999 Dodge minivan driven by Carino Vanorden, 24, of
The truck was driven by Ryan Dorward, 26, of DeRuyter. He works for Newton Salvage Co. of Georgetown in Madison County. Duane Newton, the company's owner, was in the truck at the time. Neither returned phone calls.
Adam Weitsman owns the trailer. Weitsman, of Owego-based Ben Weitsman and Son Scrap, leases out 60 trailers, he said. The trailer in the crash was new, had a valid inspection and had never had any problems, Weitsman said. The Newtons had leased it since the beginning of May. Weitsman wasn't sure if the load of crushed cars hauled that day was headed for one of his yards.
He got a text message from Zach Newton, Duane Newton's son, shortly after the crash, letting him know that the trailer had been in an accident. At the time, Zach Newton could only get close enough to see that the trailer was still standing. It wasn't until Weitsman got up Thursday morning that he knew the trailer hit the minivan, killing seven people.
"It's a tragic horrible disaster," Weitsman said. "It's horrible every way around."
He said when he talked to Zach Newton on Thursday, the young man could barely talk because he felt so badly about what had happened.
"They're totally devastated," Weitsman said. "He's heartbroken. Heartbroken."
Alyssa Mead, the 7-year-old killed in the crash, was about to finish first grade at Parker Elementary School in Cortland. Superintendent Michael Hoose said the sadness at a district awards assembly was unbearable during a moment of silence in honor of Mead and the others who died.
"People are still trying to cope with the magnitude of the loss," Hoose said. Flags at all the district schools are at half-staff. Counselors have been at the elementary school, trying to answer the questions of small children struggling to understand the death of their friend.
Alyssa Mead's little brother, Tyler, and Jasmine Bush had just registered for kindergarten May 17.
Vanorden's sister, Mookey Vanorden, mourned her big brother's loss on her Facebook page: "All of the support we've gotten since Thursday night is overwhelming and heartwarming. Thank you so much for everything that's been done. We've received food, prayers, well wishes and shoulders to cry on from family, friends, the Jewish community, the FM community and it makes a horrific time just a tiny bit easier. "
Carino Vanorden was the oldest in a multi-racial adopted family
raised by Kate Vanorden. His little sister, Soukee, described their
family in a letter to The Post-Standard in 2010: "We've grown up
learning to keep our heads held high, to accept the challenges that come
toward us and to stay focused on our goals and lifelong dreams," she
wrote. "Family is the most important gift to be given, and I know you
must never take it for granted."
Contact John O'Brien at 315-470-2187 or email@example.com. Contact Marnie Eisenstadt at 315-470-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.