Immigrant trucker charged with five counts of vehicular homicide in horrific crash

| Friday, July 11, 2003

Bosnian-born trucker Ejub Grcic, 54, is in jail today as authorities continue an investigation of the fiery crash July 7 in Slippery Rock, PA, that killed five people.

The truck driven by Grcic, who lives in West Valley, UT, reportedly ran a stop sign, crashing into a car carrying a North Carolina family. All members of the family are dead.

The North Carolina family had been visiting relatives in the area over Independence Day. Killed were Janet Kerr, 35; Kathleen Kerr, 13; Kenneth Kerr III, 4; and Alessandra Hall, 16, who was Janet Kerr's daughter from a previous marriage. The driver, Kenneth Kerr Jr., 35, died Tuesday morning. All were from Smithfield, NC.

The cause of the crash is under close examination by investigators. The collision occurred during daylight hours at the Branchton Road-Route 8 intersection. There’s a stop sign there, but no traffic light.

While authorities are compiling statistics on other accidents occurring at the intersection, a storm of scrutiny is swirling around the trucker. A July 10 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that preliminary information indicates that Grcic is part owner of EH Transport, a one-truck business in West Valley, UT. He held a Utah commercial driver’s license. According to news reports, Pennsylvania State Police are having such difficulties communicating with Grcic that they can’t imagine how he qualified for a commercial driver’s license.

Brandon Olsen, part owner and head of training at Mountain West CDL School in Salt Lake City, says he thinks Grcic must have had some English skills or he simply could not have passed the written test. Most CDL applicants in Utah can take the road test from private testing companies or CDL schools who are third-party examiners, but Olsen says the written test is administered by the state.

“You have to have some ability to speak English. For those who are still learning to speak and read the language, Utah has audio assistance, so a driver can put on the headphones and listen to a tape of the test,” says Olsen. “It makes it much easier to understand and of course, pass the test. You still have to be able to communicate in English. To be a trucker, you have to. It’s the law.”

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations for driver qualifications, Section 391.11, commercial driver’s license holders must be able to “read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in English, to respond to official inquiries and to make entries on reports and records.”

According to news reports, Grcic needed a Croatian interpreter to communicate with police. He also needed an interpreter at his arraignment Tuesday. Grcic was charged on five counts of homicide by vehicle, one count each of driving an overweight truck and driving a commercial vehicle without being able to communicate with authorities, and related motor vehicle offenses.

Authorities are also investigating why Grcic was on the rural road before the Monday afternoon crash in Slippery Rock. According to The Associated Press, police reports said the tractor-trailer was too heavy for the road, which displayed signs proclaiming a 10-ton limit.

The Post-Gazette reported that Tom Hudachko, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, would release only general information about the company.

Hudachko told the Post-Gazette the company had gone through 45 inspections at weigh stations across the country. Of them, 14 were vehicle inspections in which brakes, liners and blinkers were tested. Thirty-one were driver inspections in which it was determined whether the driver had a valid license, kept log books or drove too many hours.

He told the Post-Gazette EH Transport had six violations, not an excessive number.

"They have never had a violation ... where it set off an alarm," Hudachko said.

-- by Sandi Soendker, managing editor

Sandi Soendker can be reached at ooida@aol.com.

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