The driver of a big-rig that slammed into a family’s minivan killing three toddlers from Ladera Ranch was apparently speeding on the I-5. According to a report in The Orange County Register, California Highway Patrol officials are recommending vehicular manslaughter charges for the driver of the big-rig, who they say was traveling at a high rate of speed given the traffic conditions that day on the freeway.
The May crash took the lives of three young siblings Katie, Emma and Kyle Coble who were only 2, 4 and 5 years old. The Register article states that the report reveals Jorge Manuel Romero was in violation of the state’s basic speed law, which prohibits drivers from traveling faster than conditions permit. Officials said that this was not Romero’s first violation although it was his first violation that ended in fatalities. He had previously received citations for speeding in a tractor trailer, driving without his lights on and driving with a suspended license, the Register article reports.
A previous investigation by the Register last month revealed that the trucking company, KW Express, itself had 15 safety violations that surfaced during federal and state inspections. Let’s look at some of these violations. Drivers were allowed to work before they completed pre-employment drug screening. Drivers’ time cards were falsified. Vehicle maintenance records were not kept. And a company spokesman was quoted in the newspaper saying it was all a result of “innocent ignorance.” If the Cobles are represented by one of Orange County’s best personal injury attorneys, those violations won’t look so innocent to an Orange County jury.
Does it sound like I have an attitude about this? I do! It is precisely this callous disregard, expressed by KW Express’s spokesman, that I sense is the cause of this fatal truck accident. KW Express allows it’s drivers to pilot big rigs on our highways without drug testing and calls it “innocent ignorance”? Ignorance of the law or giving drivers more time to clean up for drug testing?
Falsified time cards? Does this mean driver’s records were altered to conceal the real amount of time they were driving in excess of federal regulations? Or does it mean that they were shorting their driver’s pay?
Is it an “innocent ignorance” to fail to keep maintenance records on 18-wheeleers cruising down our highways with as much as 25 tons of cargo on them? Isn’t it important to know how old and worn the brakes are on a vehicle weighing up to 80,000 pounds, including cargo? Failing to keep truck maintenance records sounds like a way to keep the Department of Transportation from knowing how many miles a big rig is really doing.
Big-rig accidents that cause injuries are certainly not uncommon nationwide or in California. According to 2006 preliminary numbers obtained by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) there were 54,104 accidents involving large trucks across the country which resulted in 81,312 injuries. Some of these may have been caused by the other motorists. But in decades of representing victims of trucking crashes like the Coble family, I’ve seen trucking companies cut corners and falsify records to make their drivers work longer hours. They can’t be bothered about maintaining their vehicles, which become guided missiles on the freeway. And as we saw in this case, they don’t care much about their drivers’ background and qualifications.
An example needs to be made of the truck’s driver and his employer, KW Express. For the safety of the motoring public I hope the district attorney files the vehicular manslaughter charges. Send a message to trucking companies and big rig drivers that you will suffer the consequences if you operate negligently in California. Give the Coble family the justice and closure they rightfully deserve.
I also hope the Colby family is represented by one of Orange County’s premier traffic accident law firms to protect their legal rights and help them sue this company out of existence. It’s not just a way to make sure they don’t cause such harm in the future, but it’ll also serve as a lesson and a warning to other trucking companies: operate safely and within the laws or find yourself out of business. Companies that cut safety corners to gain a competitive advantage over their competition need to be held accountable so as to level the playing field for those trucking companies that are playing by the rules.