Trucker Fatigue Caused 2015 Metrolink Crash

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In February 2015, a truck en route to Oxnard, California from Arizona made a wrong turn onto the railroad tracks where it was struck by a Los Angeles bound Metrolink commuter train. The wreck killed the engineer and also injured 32 passengers and train crew members. Now, federal investigators have determined that the accident was caused by acute driver fatigue and lack of familiarity with the area.

The crash occurred at 5:44 a.m. after the trucker had reportedly been on duty for close to 24 hours after traveling 17 hours from Somerton Arizona. The report comes after prosecutors in Ventura County filed misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the trucker earlier this year.

A Long Strange Trip

The investigation, conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board,  revealed that the trucker first went on duty in Somerton early on February 23, and started his trip several hours later at 1:00 p.m. He was relying on written directions and a cellphone navigation app. By the time he made it to Jacumba, the truck had radiator damage which led to a 4.5 hour delay before a replacement truck was sent. After the proceeding, the new truck was sideswiped by another vehicle in Los Angeles about 1:30 a.m. on February 24, and there was another delay.

Then 65 miles northwest of L.A., the trucker made the fateful wrong right turn onto the tracks, after overshooting the cross street he intended to turn on. The railroad crossing had the necessary warning signals, which were not yet operating because the train was not approaching. The truck rolled on another 80 feet down the tracks before it got stock.

The trucker tried to push the train off the track but fled in a panic as the train approached, about 12 minutes after the truck first got stuck. The principal engineer, the longest -serving Metrolink engineer, was critically injured and died a week later. A student engineer was at the controls and applied the emergency brakes after spotting the obstruction, but not soon enough to avoid the collision.

The NTSB investigation also determined that the trucker’s cellphone app did not contain information on rail crossings and that he misinterpreted visual clues of the rail crossing as he approached the intersection. In short, truck driver fatigue and the trucker’s lack of familiarity with the rural area where he got stuck were contributing factors in the deadly collision.

Who’s at fault?

There are state and federal laws in place that limit the hours truckers can drive, and that also require regular rest breaks. Give the delays due to the stalled truck, and the preceding minor accident, what was intended to be a 6 hour trip became a 24 hour journey. It is unclear, however, if the trucker will be convicted for vehicular manslaughter.

In the meantime, civil lawsuits may also be brought against the trucker for not adhering to these safety laws. In addition, the trucking company may be held liable if it can be shown that the original truck was not properly maintained, or if the company was aware that the trucker had been on duty for nearly 24 hours. If you were injured in a truck accident, you should engage the services of an experienced personal injury attorney. The JNY law firm routinely handles truck and train accident cases in Northern and Southern California.