Four players on the North Central Texas College softball team were tragically killed Friday night when a distracted tractor-trailer driver rammed into their van on Interstate 35. The team was returning to the Gainesville campus after a scrimmage game in southern Oklahoma earlier in the day when the fatal accident occurred.
All other occupants of the van were injured, including 12 other softball players and the coach, who was also the driver. Two of the young women remain hospitalized. The 18-wheeler driver, of course, only suffered minor injuries.
No Indication Truck Driver Tried to Avoid Accident
How and why did this happen? Why don’t 18 wheeler drivers watch where they are going as they barrel down our highways at 70 or more miles per hour?
The crash happened on a stretch of I-35 near Turner Falls in southern Oklahoma where the road curves slightly to the right. Instead of bending, the northbound truck continued travelling straight approximately 820 feet across the center median — 950 if you add the dip — into oncoming traffic. The posted speed limit was 70 miles per hour.
The tractor-trailer slammed into the driver’s side of the southbound van, causing the vehicle to roll onto its side. The semi continued travelling across the southbound lanes, careening off the shoulder and uprooting trees before coming to rest in a grove nearly 100 feet off the interstate. Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Ronnie Hampton said first responders could not locate the semi for almost one hour. Where was the driver?
18-Wheeler Driver’s Distraction Caused The Crash
The Quickway Transportation driver; Russell Staley, 53, from Saginaw (north Fort Worth) admitted that he was
distracted by something in the truck cabin. However police have not
identified the specific distraction. Captain Hampton appeared to
question Mr. Staley’s explanation of the events leading to the semi
crash. He might have been texting.
Staley never braked or swerved before the collision. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found no damage to the
semi’s brakes that would indicate mechanical brake failure. His trailer was emply, making it much easier to control and stop. A complete investigation by the NTSB is expected to take months. Twenty-two Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers were on the scene canvassing evidence.
Quickway Transportation’s safety record is not a problem. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), company trucks have not been involved in any other fatal collisions in the last two years and it’s out of service rate (requiring trucks to be pulled from the road due to safety violations) is 7.5%, which is much less than the national average of 20.7&.
Police said the tractor-trailer accident is being investigated as a homicide. Criminal charges might be filed for multiple counts of vehicular manslaughter and assault. I want to see what the toxicology results and log books reveal as well as the data from the event data recorder showing Staley’s speed, whether cruise control was engaged,, and if he ever applied his brakes. I would subpoena these records immediately.
Tightknit Community and the Nation Mourn Softball Players’ Deaths
The North Texas communities mourn the horrible and unnecessary deaths of the four
young women, identified as Meagan Richardson, 19, from Wylie; Brooke
Deckard, 20, from Blue Ridge; Katelynn Woodlee, 18, from Dodd City; and
Jaiden Pelton, 20, from Telephone. In their honor, softball players
throughout the United States wore red ribbons and wrote the school’s
initials “NCTC” on their uniforms.
Distracted Driving Is A Major Threat On Our Highways
3,328 people were killed in known distraction-affected
accidents in 2012, and another 421,000 people were injured. All
distracted drivers are dangerous. However, when the vehicle is a
tractor-trailer, the risks are compounded because of the truck’s size
and weight. Truck drivers have a duty to concentrate on their driving.
One moment’s distraction can lead to tragedy, as happened here when the lives of the promising Texas college students ended too
Get Compassionate, Aggressive Legal Counsel
This heart-breaking story resonates with me on many levels. I hate these supposedly professional drivers who are incompetent. I spent a lot of time in Gainesville fighting for the family of a tow truck driver who was tragically killed (see Walters case halfway down) when an 18 wheeler driver crashed into the truck he was under while he was hooking it up, and have represented other people in Gainesville and in that area. Also, my daughter was just there working on a job for two weeks (she is a young CPA in Dallas and is not much older than these young women). And I was born and lived in Nashville and worked on 18 wheelers loading furniture and on other large trucks to make money during summers in high school.
Over the past 34 years, I’ve witnessed firsthand
the tremendous grief families experience after the unnecessary and
untimely loss of their loved ones in 18-wheeler wrecks. Sadly, survivors of truck accidents are often left with life-long disabilities.
My law firm, Berenson Injury Law, fights for justice against distracted tractor-trailer
drivers and the trucking corporations responsible for the reckless
operation of their semi fleets. Hopefully, future truck drivers will
consider distracted driving the life-threatening action it is.
You can reach us here or by calling 817-885-8000 or toll-free at 1-888-801-8585 to schedule a free consultation. We will fight to get you the compensation that you deserve.