Hitch failure cited as cause of runaway trailer crash that killed seven

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 6/6/2013

Mechanical failure of the fifth wheel hitch is being blamed for causing a fatality crash in upstate New York that killed seven people, including four small children.

Investigators with the Cortland County, NY, Sheriff’s Department said the cause of the crash was a mechanism failure on the fifth wheel locking mechanism. It was due to this mechanism failure that the trailer was able to disconnect from the 1997 Kenworth. The crash occurred at 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29 on Route 13 in Truxton. A trailer full of salvaged cars veered into the opposite lane, smashing into a 1999 Dodge Caravan carrying eight people.

“It doesn’t get any worse than this, I don’t think,” Capt. Mark Helms, a sheriff’s department spokesman, said. “The true cause of the accident is that the hitch didn’t hold like it was supposed to.”

Helms said the inspection following the accident showed that the air brakes deployed, but they were unable to prevent the collision with the minivan, driven by Carino Vanorden, 24, of Fayetteville, NY. The tractor-trailer was southbound on Route 13 while the minivan was northbound.

“The inspection showed (the brakes) did what they were supposed to do,” Helms said. “There isn’t an issue with the brakes. Unfortunately, (the rig) never should have come apart.”

Helms declined to comment about road conditions at the scene, the position of the trailer during impact, and several other questions about the mechanical components of both the truck and trailer.

“Unfortunately at this point I cannot comment any further until the investigation has concluded,” Helms said. “I can assure you that every aspect, including every what if, is being investigated.”

A review of online records on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation showed no known problems associated with the fifth-wheel locking mechanisms of 1997 Kenworth tractors. The trailer, identified by police as a JMH model, does not have a listing in ODI’s database.

Vanorden and his fiancee, Lena Beckwith, 21, of DeRuyter, NY, were killed. Also killed were Teresa Bush, 26, and her two daughters, Alexis Bush, 4, and Jasmine Bush, 5. Alyssa Mead, 7, and Tyler Mead, 4, were also killed. Shawn Mead, their father, survived. The Bush family and the Mead family were from Cortland.

The driver of the truck was 26-year-old Ryan Dorward, also of DeRuyter. Dorward works for Newton Salvage Co. of Georgetown. Duane Newton, the company’s owner, is reported to have been a passenger in the truck, according to a report published June 2 by The Syracuse Post-Standard.

The Post-Standard also reported the trailer was owned by Adam Weitsman of Oswego-based Ben Weitsman and Son Scrap. Weitsman told the newspaper the trailer in the crash was new and had had a valid inspection. The Newtons had reportedly leased it since the beginning of May.

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