Three tragic crashes in the DFW area raise questions about the safety of commercial trucks sharing the roadways and experts believe both collisions could have been prevented if truck drivers and companies maintained their vehicles properly.
The first crash happened in April 2014 while Holly Dunn, a Burleson resident, was driving northbound on Interstate 35W near downtown Fort Worth.
Dunn was on her way to work at her store in the Fort Worth Stockyards when an 11-pound leaf spring, which is part of a truck’s suspension system, crashed through both her front and back windshields.
The latest news from around North Texas.
It came through her windshield with such force that it entered her cheek, severed her ear at the ear canal, and exited out the back of her skull and blew a hole in her skull about the size of a silver dollar,” said Holly’s husband, Tim Dunn.
While it was touch and go at first, miraculously, Holly Dunn survived.
About six months later there was another crash involving another leaf spring. This time it happened in Garland near I-30 and Broadway Boulevard. The leaf spring hit the 32-year-old driver in the head. He was critically injured but he too survived.
Days earlier, another leaf spring-related crash took place in Denton where the driver died. Stanley and Anita Fabregas witnessed the crash.
“I wake up quite often at night reliving the whole thing again. Every time I drive and get behind a truck I try and get away from it,” Stanley Fabregas said.
The driver in front of the couple’s car was following an 18-wheeler.
“We turned on 377 and maybe three miles down the road we heard a boom,” said Anita.
That boom, they say, was the leaf spring that crashed into the windshield of the car in front of them and rocketed through that vehicle before exiting the rear window.
Anita and Stanley rushed to help.
“It was horrible,” said Stanley.
The passenger of that car was frantic.
“I asked her, I said, ‘What is this lady’s name? What is her name?’ she said, ‘It’s Tina.’ I just kept telling her, ‘You’re not going anywhere Tina. You stay right here. We got help coming.’” Stanley said, fighting back tears.
“The doctor said that my mom had been in a car accident,” said Cami Cherry.
Cherry’s mother, Tina Reese, was on her way to watch Cherry play volleyball with her University of North Texas team.
“Something fell off a truck and hit her in the head and that they had tried to resuscitate her, but, like minutes before I got there, they couldn’t bring her back.”
In these cases, the trucks were never found.
Trucking experts, however, said the collision could be tied to poor maintenance.
“More than likely, highly probably that it was avoidable. A leaf spring cracking is something that occurs over the course of time, not just in an instant when a load is put on a truck,” said Lee Jackson, a former police officer who now investigates trucking crashes for both companies and victims.
Jackson believes poorly maintained trucks are trucks that can kill.
“They scare me because I’m very aware of what they’re capable of,” he said.
Fort Worth Police Officer Robert Mills has been inspecting trucks for 13 years. He said about one in four trucks his team inspects is pulled out of service. Statewide that number is about one in five, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“During the inspection, the most common problems I see are usually brake issues,” Mills said.
That’s troubling, because a typical 18-wheeler, weighing 80,000 pounds going 60 mph, can take the entire length of a football field to stop. So a truck with substandard brakes is downright dangerous.
To compound the problem, Mills believes a commercial truck with brake problems shouldn’t be on the road in the first place. Federal law mandates drivers do pre- and post-trip inspections, but that doesn’t always happen.
One commercial truck driver Mills stopped for a routine inspection told him he did a pre-trip inspection, but decided to drive on a bald tire anyway because he didn’t have time to fix it.
“He will be placed out of service and he will be fined for the tire,” said Mills.
That kind of disregard for safety angers Bill Graves, former governor of Kansas, who serves as president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.
“We have really fine, responsible owners and operators, and we have owners and operators who shouldn’t be in our business,” Graves said. “We’d like to see them off the road.”
Graves stresses most companies and truckers are committed to safety. The ATA successfully lobbied for mandatory safety devices that electronically monitor drivers and their trucks and advocates for other devices which limit the speed of a truck.
The ATA also believes all motorists must do their part to stay safe on the road with trucks. That means not following too closely behind a truck and not cutting off a truck. Experts also say, when possible, it’s best not to pass a big truck on the right side because that’s a blind spot.
“I’ve actually gone 43 years and over five million miles without an accident,” said Gary Babbitt, a professional truck driver in the DFW area.
Babbitt takes maintenance and pre- and post-trip inspections seriously. He spends plenty of time checking his truck before he hits the road. And he uses caution while driving.
But not every truck driver takes that same care, leaving Anita Fabregas to wonder if proper truck maintenance could have saved Tina Reese.
“Why would a truck get on the road if there’s a crack in a leaf spring? Why isn’t it repaired? You don’t drive until it’s fixed,” she questioned.
“It should have been caught,” said Lee Jackson.
That’s little consolation to Cami Cherry who now faces life alone, without her mother.
Compounding this tragedy, her mother’s death comes three years after a drunken driver killed her little brother.
“They’re together, and they’re happy, and they’re loved and they’re with God,” she said.
And while that image of her mother and brother brings Cherry comfort, being without her mom is painful and difficult.