By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer
An Illinois motor carrier whose truck and driver were involved in a multiple fatality on Interstate 80 in Nebraska last weekend has been cited repeatedly for driver fatigue issues.
The wrecks occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, Sept. 9, after a disabled truck stopped in the right westbound lane of Interstate 80 between mile markers 38 and 39. As traffic backed up in the westbound lanes, a truck driven by 36-year-old Josef Slezak of Rivergrove, IL, slammed into a 2010 Ford Mustang driven by Christopher Schmidt, 30, of Gaithersburg, MD.
The force of the wreck pushed Schmidt’s Mustang into a Toyota Camry that was driven by Diana Schmidt, Christopher Schmidt’s wife, who was 30 weeks pregnant. The Camry was pushed underneath a truck directly in front of it driven by William David Wiener of Algona, IA, who drove for Cornpatch Express of Emmetsburg, IA. Conner Schmidt, 2, and Samual Schmidt, 3, were passengers in the Camry. All occupants of both cars died in the wrecks.
Slezak was charged with four counts of manslaughter and four counts of motor vehicle homicide, though that charge has been amended to reflect an additional count of vehicular homicide due to the death of Diana Schmidt’s unborn child. He remains in jail on $1 million bond.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website, AKI Trucking Inc., Slezak’s carrier, was rated at 80.9 percent for FMCSA’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, above the 65 percent line that triggers federal intervention. The company had been cited for 18 fatigued driving violations, including most recently in late July in California when one of its drivers was cited for violating state and local hours-of-service laws.
AKI Trucking hadn’t been involved in a fatal wreck in the last 24 months, FMCSA’s records show.
After Sunday’s wrecks, Slezak spoke to investigators through an interpreter.
Cheyenne County (Nebraska) Attorney Paul Schaub said Wednesday he had found no reason to believe Slezak’s limited ability to speak English was a factor in the wreck. Reached Friday, Schaub said the investigation is ongoing.
Through an interpreter, Slezak told investigators he didn’t hear warnings about the wreck because his CB radio wasn’t turned on. A driver for Romeoville, IL-based AKI Trucking, Slezak is reportedly from the former Czechoslovakia Republic.
The original wreck included its own fatality at mile marker 38. Keith A. Johnson of Big Lake, MN, died from injuries sustained at the scene after his truck slammed into the disabled truck. Johnson worked for North Metro Truck Leasing of Albertville, MN. The disabled truck was driven by Vladamir Zhukov of Oak Park, IL. Zhukov drives for MTR Express, Inc., of Wood Dale, IL.