Just before sunrise on March 26th, on a hilly stretch of Kentucky Interstate 65, a tractor-trailer loaded with auto parts drifted out of its lane, roaring over a median, passing into the northbound lanes of the highway, and striking a passenger van head-on.
The van carried a group of members of a Burkesville Mennonite church, who were headed north for a wedding that weekend in Iowa. The passengers included a recently-engaged couple and members of their family, accompanied by several children and grandchildren. Of the 13 total passengers, only two survived. When his vehicle smashed into a rock wall and burst into flames, the driver of the commercial truck was also killed.
Reports called the crash "one of the deadliest traffic accidents in recent Kentucky history." Leroy Kauffman, pastor of the victims' church said, "We're experiencing a lot of heartache and a lot of sadness." State officials offered their sympathies to the victims and their families; Governor Steve Beshear was quoted as saying "Our entire state grieves," while the senate observed a moment of silence. Meanwhile, representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began an in-depth investigation into the cause of the crash, examining not only the background of the truck driver, but the company that employed him, and any road conditions that might have contributed to the collision.
The trucking company involved in Friday's crash had a relatively strong record; the Associated Press noted that "according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's online records, the company's 25 trucks and 30 drivers had been involved in two crashes in the past two and a half years, and only one of those resulted in any injuries." However, because trucks have such limited visibility and awkward maneuverability, their drivers must be especially vigilant, operating with an exceptional level of caution and care. Lack of training, the influence of drugs and alcohol, or even simple exhaustion (the crash occurred at approximately 5:30 AM) can be enough to cause an accident.
Due to the tremendous size and weight of commercial trucking vehicles, even seemingly minor collisions can have devastating consequences; the dangers of such a crash are multiplied ten-fold on a major highway such as I-65. Indeed, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Ann Gibson noted that "cable-barriers" had recently been installed on that section of highway, so as to discourage and prevent vehicles from crossing over the median. However, such an impediment would have been insufficient in stopping or slowing a truck like the one that crossed over Friday morning.
Regardless of the NTSB's final determination as to the cause of the accident – and with whom the resulting liability rests – this tragic example underlines the extreme dangers present on highways and interstates across the country. If you or a loved one has been harmed in an accident with a tractor-trailer or other commercial vehicle, seek out experienced representation that can help you right the wrong that has been done. Personal injury lawyer James R. Gillen has a wealth of experience handling cases arising from crashes of this type; to learn more about his work in this area of law, please visit the auto and trucking accident page of Mr. Gillen's website.