A tractor-trailer accident in Contra Costa County offers a tragic example of what happens when a trucking company is allowed to put poorly maintained vehicles on the road. The accident occurred during rush hour on a major road in Pittsburg when the truck clipped two vehicles before slamming into the front of a commercial building. An explosion followed and consumed the truck, the building and an adjacent building. The driver was killed.
Witnesses said the semi was clearly experiencing mechanical difficulties and that the driver, honking and flashing his lights, tried to downshift and brake as he maneuvered through traffic. Everyone interviewed said the driver did everything he could to avoid injuring others. Both buildings destroyed in the fire were unoccupied at the time.
The day after the crash, the California Highway Patrol told reporters that the company that owned the truck had been cited multiple times for safety violations. ABC7 News reviewed the records and found that the violations were fairly major: Brakes and steering systems in the company’s trucks — even the ones on the road — needed repair. These allegations and more were corroborated by former employees.
Further, the CHP records showed that the police had conducted a site inspection — as opposed to a roadside inspection — in October 2014. Less than six months ago, the company received unsatisfactory ratings in every category. A roadside inspection proved the point: The truck was carrying a load that was eight tons over the limit.
The news about the violations and the company’s apparent lack of interest in maintaining their fleet — and keeping their drivers and the public safe — is disturbing, but the reports leave out an important observation: The company was still operating. If the CHP had reams of records of violations, and the company had failed to respond to citations and remediation efforts, why was it in business?
We addressed this larger issue more than a year ago in our Jan. 24, 2014, post. At that time, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had been authorized to shut down carriers with a history of violations. What happened here?
If the family of the driver were to file a wrongful death lawsuit, would the only defendant be the trucking company? Or would it make sense to include the state inspectors and the CHP as defendants for their failure to keep the trucks off the roads?
ABC7 News, “Fatal Pittsburg big-rig accident could have been prevented,” Wayne Freedman, March 17, 2015
KTVU, “Big-rig driver dies in fiery crash into Pittsburg restaurant,” March 16, 2015