Malfunctioning brakes contributed to fatal accident at Mt. Rose truck ramp
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – Brake malfunction was the largest contributing factor to a accident that killed the driver of a commercial truck while setting ablaze a private residence on June 18, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol’s investigation report.
“It is suspected that (the vehicle’s) brakes were insufficient to safely negotiate the present downgrade (6.3 percent) of the roadway,” stated the report, released recently and authored by Nevada High Patrol Trooper Eric Gallagher.
At 8:10 a.m. on the morning of June 18, a yellow 1999 Kenworth semi truck driven by Frederick Matthews, 41, of San Diego, was traveling westbound on State Route 431 when it attempted to use the runaway truck ramp near the intersection of highways 431 and 28.
The vehicle struck two piles of gravel before vaulting off the ramp, striking a tree and crashing into a private home at 645 Woodridge Circle, according to the report.
The vehicle overturned and caught fire, setting the house ablaze. Matthews was trapped inside the truck cab and died.
Gwendolynn Ewasko was the sole occupant in the house at the time of the collision.
“I was in the living room and all of a sudden I thought I heard our roof coming off,” she said in the report, adding she immediately called 911 and evacuated the house.
Tim Bain, a Reno resident who witnessed the event as he was driving south on Mt. Rose Highway, said the truck was traveling in excess of 100 miles before using the run-a-way truck ramp.
The NHP accident investigation team said most of the brakes on the vehicle were damaged in the accident, hindering inspection efforts. However, one of the undamaged axles revealed the right and left brakes were insufficient and would have warranted the vehicle be retired from service, according to the report.
Matthews had no previous crashes or accidents on his driving record, said Wilma Knowles, co-owner of Kennie Knowles Trucking Co., out of Redding, Calif., where Matthews worked. The truck he was driving had been given consistent maintenance starting in December 2009 and was serviced and inspected as early as June 1, Knowles said, while its trailer carrying the lumber was inspected on June 7.
According to the report, the truck ramp had 11 documented incidents – including the June 18 incident – where it was used to stop a runaway vehicle.
The accident investigation report states: “I spoke with Jay Pullen of the Nevada Department of Transportation in regard to this … truck ramp. I asked him about the design and speed ratings of this ramp. Mr. Pullen stated to me that they have no specific data or documentation detailing the maximum speed of this ramp.”
During a Monday interview, NDOT Spokesman Scott Magruder said that out of the 11 documented incidents, the ramp worked successfully on most occasions.
Despite those success stories, the June 18 incident marked the third major truck crash in the past nine years at the ramp.
In May 2002, according to previous reports, a truck carrying gypsum wallboard and a hydraulic lift was also sent airborne, with the driver, 23-year-old Manuel Ortega-Portillo, suffering moderate head injuries and having to be airlifted for medical attention. The truck came to rest next to the same house on Woodridge Circle, which was damaged slightly from flying debris.
In 2003, Richard Densmore, 40, crashed his truck into one of the three gravel piles and subsequently cartwheeled into a tree before a lurching halt at the ramp’s crest, according to previous reports. Densmore suffered modest injuries.
Magruder said NDOT is currently evaluating the truck ramp.
“We are looking at increasing signs, evaluating materials, the length of the ramp – basically everything,” he said.
Due to the lack of national standards regarding truck ramps, NDOT has investigated other comparable state’s truck ramp regulations such as California and Oregon.
“Although there is no time frame for completion of the evaluation, it is definitely a priority,” said Magruder.