Four months after the February 5, 2018, crash involving a dump truck and nine other vehicles in Santa Rosa, California, police in the area completed their investigation into the incident. Findings indicate the dump truck may have been overweight and that there was likely an issue with the brakes, but arguably an even more concerning detail from the final report is that the tow truck driver chose to skip a routine vehicle inspection the day of the crash. The report shows the dangers of maintenance negligence and how lax oversight can play a big part in truck accidents.
Six people were hurt in the Santa Rosa dump truck crash, and three of those people sustained critical injuries. Three individuals have already filed lawsuits over the crash, including a woman who was left paralyzed after the accident and has been in and out of hospitals since it happened.
What Did The 72-Page Santa Rosa Dump Truck Crash Report Find?
The lengthy investigation by the Santa Rosa Police Department and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) resulted from the devastation of the crash, which Santa Rosa Police Sergeant Summer Black referred to as the worst she had seen in her career.
The 2009 Kenworth Northwest dump truck, which was driven by 45-year-old Francisco Alberto Rodriguez and owned by Flores Trucking, was coming down a hill on Fountaingrove Parkway at approximately 9:25 a.m. with a load of debris from the October 2017 Tubbs Fire when it careened through a red light and set off a frightening chain reaction of crashes in an intersection. The dump truck caught fire after the crash and then five more vehicles were set ablaze, creating a treacherous situation for crash victims and first responders.
Results from the investigation indicate, however, that the dangerous crash could have been prevented, and found several serious issues with the vehicle and driver leading up to the crash.
Bad Brakes Blamed for Dump Truck Crash
CHP performed the physical inspection of the dump truck after the crash, and despite fire damage to the braking system, were able to ascertain that only five of the eight brakes on the vehicle worked properly. The other three brakes were in need of adjustment and were not fully functional.
Rodriguez had said following the crash that the truck’s brakes had failed. The report says that he also said that the brakes had been working properly when he began his shift.
ABC7 News asked Sgt. Black if, during the investigation, officials discovered whether Rodriguez knew the brakes were faulty.
“He did not know the brakes were faulty,” Sgt. Black said. “That is what he indicated to us.”
Rodriguez’s claim of not knowing about the condition of the brakes might matter little in the lawsuits filed against him and Flores Trucking, as there could still be proof of a failure to adequately maintain and inspect the vehicle.
Flores Trucking Accident Highlights State Vehicle Code Violation
Findings from the report also demonstrate that Rodriguez had violated the state’s vehicle code, which requires that truck operators ensure brakes are adjusted in a way that allows them to operate as equally as possible on the wheels on opposing sides of the vehicle.
That violation generally results in fines, not jail time, and so far the Santa Rosa Police Department has not found any criminal negligence, but they’ve passed the report on to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, who will now review it separately to look for potential criminal elements.
Truck Driver Skipped Inspection of Vehicle Before Crash
A skipped inspection could be key in the lawsuits against Rodriguez, Flores Trucking, ECC (the government contractor hired to do the fire debris clearing that hired Flores Trucking) and any other companies connected to the accident.
The Santa Rosa dump truck crash report found that Rodriguez failed to complete a routine inspection of the vehicle as he began his workday on the fateful morning. The report does not address what elements of the truck would have been checked in the inspection and does not mention violations resulting from skipping the inspection.
Early CHP Reports Said Dump Truck Was Overweight and In Need of Service
An April 20, 2018, article in The Press Democrat said that a specialized unit with the CHP found that the dump truck was in excess of its Department of Transportation mandated weight limit when the crash occurred and that it was overdue for service.
It is unclear whether the full Santa Rosa dump truck crash report addresses the truck’s weight.
ECC responded to the claims in The Press Democrat by saying that the Flores Trucking dump truck was within its appropriate weight limits and had recently had its brakes serviced. The latter claim, at least, seems to have been disproved by the report.
One Victim Came Close to Death, Paralyzed from Crash
One of the most devastating injuries from the Santa Rosa dump truck crash was that of 76-year-old Barbara Schmidt, who had already lost her home in the October fires and was in the pickup truck that the dump truck struck first.
Schmidt was paralyzed in the crash and now lives in a long-term rehabilitation center. Her time there has been interrupted by several hospital stays, as doctors worked to treat sometimes life-threatening complications from her injuries. She is one of several victims pursuing legal action.