'Bent component' cited as cause of hitch failure in crash that killed seven

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A bent component in the secondary locking mechanism of the fifth-wheel trailer hitch is being cited as the cause of a crash that killed seven people on May 29on Route 13 in Truxton, N.Y., according to a release from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department.

According to investigators, the hitch and trailer were connected and had been tested correctly. Approximately 13 miles into the trip, the trailer separated unexpectedly from the tractor and collided with the van. 

“The release handle would move into position so that it would appear to be operating normally,” the report stated. “Further inspection showed the jaws of the fifth-wheel closed around and secured the king pin, but when a pull test was conducted, the trailer disconnected.”

Upon further inspection, authorities found a bent component inside that affected the secondary locking mechanism. The cause of the bent component is unknown, but it was not believed to have resulted from the accident.

No criminal charges are expected to be filed in connection with the accident. However, the New York State Department of Transportation and the FMCSA did issue a combined seven citations against the carrier. None of those violations were found to have contributed to the accident, authorities said.

The violations include failing to implement an alcohol and controlled substance testing program; failing to maintain driver qualification files; failing to maintain inquiries into driver’s driving record; failing to require drivers to complete a record of duty status; failing to keep minimum records of inspection and vehicle maintenance; failing to require the driver to prepare Driver Vehicle inspection reports; and using a commercial motor vehicle not periodically inspected.

According to the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, the Holland fifth-wheel trailer hitch was deemed responsible for the JMH flatbed trailer hauling a load of salvage cars disconnecting from a 1997 Kenworth tractor and colliding with an oncoming passenger van. The accident led to the deaths of seven people: 25-year-old Teresa Bush and her two daughters – 5-year-old Jasmine Bush and 4-year-old Alexis Bush; 21-year-old Lena Beckwith; 24-year-old Carino Vanorden; 7-year-old Alyssa Mead and her brother, 4-year-old Tyler Mead.

One other van occupant, 31-year-old Shawn Mead, the father of the two Mead children, survived the crash.

The Meads and the Bushes were residents of Cortland, NY. Beckwith was from DeRuyter and Vanorden from Fayetteville.

The tractor trailer was driven by Ryan Dorward, 26, of Manlius, NY.  Dorward was accompanied by Duane Newton, 44, the owner of Newton Salvage Co., which was hauling the load of salvage cars. Neither was injured in the crash.

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