Fatigued Florida trucker kills seven kids in one family, injures several on school bus
A truck driver who plowed into a stopped car on 1/25/06 and killed seven children from one family had been awake for 34 hours, except for a short nap. This dramatically emphasizes the widespread problem of truck driver fatigue that we see time and time again.
Seven children from one family in Lake Butler, Florida — five siblings and two cousins — were killed when their car stopped behind a school bus that was letting off children, and an 18-wheeler crashed into the car. Reports from the scene indicated the truck left no skid marks. The semi truck hit the car from behind and pushed it into the bus, causing the car to burst into flames on the rural two lane highway. Children on the bus reported hearing the truck’s horn blasting before impact. The bus ended up 200 feet from the point of the chain reaction impact, and the cab of the truck lay overturned near the scene. The bus was at an approved bus stop. Early indications are that the truck may not have braked. The National Transportation Safety Board plans to spend eight to 10 days at the scene. A full report likely won’t be ready for six to seven months. A data recording box inside the truck should show the truck’s speed and indicate whether the driver braked. The bus was equipped with a recording device, but it wasn’t working.
The car burst into flames, and everyone inside was killed, including 15-year-old Nicky Mann, who was driving illegally with a learner’s permit and was taking her adopted siblings and her cousins home from school. Three children on the bus were seriously injured. The kids were heading home, and then to church. The fact that the driver was a few months shy of 16 and driving on a learner’s permit appears irrelevant. It would have made no difference if the person behind the wheel of a car stopped behind a school bus had been a 54 year old with 38 years experience as a licensed driver.
The children’s grief-stricken grandfather died of a heart attack that night, the eighth fatality of the crash. The family had planned to finalize adoption of the youngest child this week. Instead, they are planning funerals for all the children and their grandfather.
Investigation of the crash centers on “why he didn’t see a big, large school bus.” Authorities are looking into whether the truck driver was possibly talking on his cell phone, if he was tired or if there was a mechanical failure of the truck. A blood sample was taken from the truck driver to test for alcohol and drugs.
The truck driver, Alvin, Wilkerson, was cited in 2000 for driving with a suspended license and twice, in 2000 and 2001, for operating a vehicle in unsafe condition. He also was arrested and charged in 1997 with accessory after the fact to murder, in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a toddler, though that charge was later dropped, and was convicted of solicitation of prostitution in 1999.
Wilkerson was driving for Crete Carrier Corp., a Nebraska-based trucking company with its Florida hub in DeLand. (Coincidentally, I was in DeLand taking depositions of a truck driver and company representative on the day of this crash.) Crete employs 5,400 truck drivers operating 5,100 tractor-trailers around the country. Accordingly to FMCSA records, in the last two years, Crete truck drivers have been involved in 482 crashes and 20 of those crashes ended in fatalities. In Florida, transportation officials conducted 259 inspections of Crete trucks and drivers in the last two years alone and found 111 violations. Eight of those violations were so serious that inspectors immediately forced the trucks out of service and off the road.
This crash on a straight, level rural road highlights a national trend, in which the Road Information Program researchers determined that traffic fatality rates are 2.5 times higher on rural roads than on all other roads.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).