Trucker dies in fiery crash; elderly four-wheeler may be charged

| Friday, July 29, 2005

A trucker burned to death in his cab Friday when a 74-year-old driver who was stuck in traffic on a highway entrance ramp drove around two cars and a yield sign, swerved into traffic and rammed into the side of the big rig.

The July 29 wreck on Pennsylvania Route 581 occurred at about 7 a.m., just after the trucker had finished his morning produce delivery. His family members asked authorities to withhold his name from publication until all relatives could be notified. He was a driver for Giant Food Stores and was from Carlisle, PA.

The 74-year-old woman who drove her 2004 Buick Century into the side of the tractor-trailer was not injured, according to reports from The Sentinel newspaper and the local ABC News affiliate in the area. Sgt. Stephen Kiesfling told the newspaper that evidence from the scene would be given to the district attorney who will then decide whether to file charges against the four-wheeler.

Toward that end, State Police treated the crash scene like a crime scene, reconstructing the events from the air and on the ground. They told local media that the trucker had attempted to minimize the impact by swerving, which caused the rig to sideswipe the car instead of hitting it straight on.

Eyewitnesses told police that the tractor then split from the trailer, struck an overpass support and burst into flames. It took firefighters 20 minutes to get the blaze under control and the trucker was burned beyond recognition.

While such accidents involving trucks and passenger vehicles continue to plague the industry, one state is doing something about it.

The Washington State Patrol – with a little help from a $600,000 grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and administrative support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and the Washington Trucking Association – has officers riding along in the cabs of trucks as part of a statewide pilot program known as “Step Up and Ride.”

The program – which was started after a trooper noticed that a majority of fatal accidents involving commercial vehicles were caused by four-wheelers – gives officers the opportunity to catch dangerous drivers in the act as they cut off or drive recklessly around big rigs.

“In our state in 2004, we had 48 fatalities involving commercial vehicles,” said Capt. Coral L. Estes, commander of the commercial vehicle division of the Washington State Patrol. “Out of those 48, 75 percent were caused by the passenger car, not the commercial vehicle.”

The newly funded ride-alongs, public opinion surveys and a media awareness campaign will take on a new name – Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks, or TACT. The program began in Washington June 30 and continues through Oct. 3, at which point it will be re-evaluated. If it’s a success, Estes said, officers could soon be doing ride-alongs in trucks across the country.

  Although dangerous drivers can be slapped with a ticket – which in Washington ranges from $101 to $525 for negligent driving, following too close, unsafe lane changes or failure to yield – Estes said another key component of the program is education. Every person stopped also receives information about the importance of safe driving near large trucks.

“People are totally unaware of the situations they’re putting themselves in,” Estes said. “Why would you put yourself in these horrendous positions where you’ve got 80,000 pounds coming down on you at 60 miles an hour?”

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