Driver of truck in 11-car crash convicted before

April 30, 1991|By Doug Birch

The driver of a dump truck that triggered a fatal 11-car pileup on the Harbor Tunnel Thruway Saturday has been convicted in the past three years of four speeding violations and of failing to obey two traffic signs, state motor vehicle officials said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Thomas E. Freberger, a spokesman for the Maryland Toll Facilities, said that investigators with the Toll Facilities Police and Maryland State Police would meet today to reconstruct the accident on paper and try to determine if speed was a contributing factor.

Investigators were focusing on the truck's air brakes, Mr. Freberger said, adding that "it appears unlikely" that the truck, which was carrying 22 tons of asphalt, was exceeding the speed limit in the heavy traffic headed toward the southbound tunnel Saturday afternoon.

An inspection after the accident revealed that one of the truck's four air brake lines had an audible leak and dry rot, Toll Facilities Police said.

They also found that three of the four brakes were misaligned and that the truck was 2,900 pounds overweight.

Police said the truck swerved as it headed toward the tunnel entrance at 4:19 p.m. Saturday, bounced off a Jersey barrier and flattened a Nissan Sentra driven by Kimberly Ann Schroeder, 23.

Ms. Schroeder, of Eastpoint, was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she died early Sunday morning.

Eight other people were injured, none seriously.

Motor Vehicle Administration officials said the dump truck driver, John Willie Buie, 58, of Baltimore, has been convicted of exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph in Maryland three times in the last three years: in June 1990, February 1990 and July 1988.

They said the records available yesterday did not show whether he was driving a truck or car on those occasions.

Mr. Buie was also convicted of speeding in Virginia in 1988, they said, and of failing to obey either a stop sign or a yield sign in Maryland that year.

MVA officials said that at the time of the accident, Mr. Buie had four points on his license -- two for each of the 1990 speeding violations.

Drivers can face suspension of their licenses after they accumulate 8 points in a 24-month period.

The MVA said Mr. Buie holds an older-style state commercial driver's license that is being phased out.

Under a 1990 state law, all Maryland truck drivers must get a new commercial license by April 1992.

This requires passing tougher, more extensive written and driving tests.

After Saturday's accident, Mr. Buie was issued citations for driving an overweight vehicle and for driving a vehicle with defective brakes.

The city state's attorney's office, after a meeting with investigators, postponed any decision on further charges, he said.

The dump truck belonged to Cunningham Paving Co., located in Crownsville.

Another Cunningham dump truck was towed out of the Fort McHenry Tunnel because of brake problems a few hours before Saturday's fatal crash at the Harbor Tunnel.

Since July 1990, the owners of commercial trucks over 10,000 pounds have been required to inspect their vehicles every 25,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first.

State police have the power to audit those inspection records, which are kept by the firms in their offices.

Owners who violate the inspection law can have the license tags on their vehicles suspended or be cited and taken to court.

So far, the state troopers have only issued warnings to give truckers a chance to "get to know about the program," said Mati Koiva, manager of Motor Carrier Programs for the state Transportation Department.

Chuck Jackson, a state police spokesman, said troopers audited Cunningham's truck inspection records in late 1990, but he declined to say whether the firm was found in compliance.

"We just want to put all the pieces of this puzzle together," he said.

A Cunningham employee said yesterday that the firm would not comment on the crash.

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