NTSB looking hard at fatigue as factor in fatal crash

| 2/6/2006

According to investigators, a trucker who was involved in a fiery, multi-fatality crash in Florida on Jan. 25 had been awake for 34 hours – except for a short nap.

The Associated Press reports that the driver, 31-year-old Alvin Wilkerson of Jacksonville , FL , made an initial statement to the Florida Highway Patrol. But on the advice of his attorney he later refused to be interviewed by National Transportation Safety Board officials.

Seven children – all of them related – died when Wilkerson’s truck plowed into their car, which was stopped behind a school bus.

At a press conference Friday, Feb. 3, the NTSB’s investigator, David Rayburn, said that at the time of the crash, Wilkerson was driving a load of bottled water from High Springs , FL , to Jacksonville , a trip of about 85 miles.

Rayburn said evidence from witnesses and Wilkerson’s log book showed Wilkerson was making deliveries and loading and unloading his truck during that period, but not driving the whole time.

“Except for a short nap, he was awake for 34 hours, but I’m not prepared to tell you whether or not he was exceeding the allowable hours of service,” said Rayburn, according to a CNN report.

Crete Carriers – the company Wilkerson drives for – made a statement last week explaining that Wilkerson had a dedicated run designed to get him home every night.

While the NTSB is looking hard at fatigue, drug or alcohol use has been ruled out. And investigators say Wilkerson was not talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash.

The statement from Crete Carrier says no pre-existing defects were found on the truck.

No charges have been filed. Officials with the Florida Highway Patrol said they hope to complete their investigation within a few weeks. The NTSB investigation is expected to take about a year.

– By Reed Black, staff writer