Dump truck owners ordered by troopers to repair 18 vehicles

May 01, 1991|By Doug Birch

Teams of state troopers staged a surprise safety inspection at dawn yesterday at Cunningham Paving Co. in Crownsville, which owns a dump truck with allegedly faulty brakes that triggered a fatal 11-car pileup Saturday, and later ordered 18 of 32 Cunningham vehicles off the road.

Some of the 18 vehicles had defective brakes, while others had faulty steering, electric lighting systems or tires, Capt. John Himmelmann, commander of the state police's Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, said at a news conference yesterday outside his office near Catonsville.

State police officials said they ordered James Cunningham, one of the company's owners, not to use the vehicles until they were repaired.

Captain Himmelmann also disclosed that his inspectors had told Cunningham Paving last December to comply with a new state law by improving its maintenance recordkeeping within 30 days. State police did not follow up on that order until yesterday's inspection, when similar problems were discovered. The company was given a citation for $255 yesterday, Captain Himmelmann said.

Michael A. Roblyer, a lawyer representing Cunningham Paving, said the company told him most of the safety violations uncovered by the state police were relatively minor. Seventeen of the 18 vehicles were repaired yesterday, he said, and the 18th will be fixed as soon as a needed part arrives.

The repaired trucks may be driven off the lot, but state police may fine the company $1,000 if they stop a truck and find the repairs were not made, said a state police spokesman.

"Most of the problems were not braking problems, and all of them were corrected very fast," Mr. Roblyer said.

He declined to talk about the company's maintenance records or discuss reports by police that the Cunningham dump truck's brakes failed Saturday.

"We're investigating everything, and after a thorough investigation, we'll have something to say," he said.

Captain Himmelmann said, "We certainly can't say he hasn't been maintaining and keeping these vehicles safe."

State police said it was not unusual to find violations in a fleet of trucks. About half the trucks that were given a fine-tooth combing under the state's roadside inspection program last year were pulled off the road, said Chuck Jackson, a state police spokesman.

Last October, state police pulled over Cunningham trucks on five occasions, as part of the state's roadside inspection program, Mr. Jackson said.

Records show the inspections turned up no serious violations.

Under a state law that took effect last July, Maryland trucking companies are required to conduct inspections of all of their vehicles over 10,000 pounds every 25,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first.

The records are kept in the offices of each company but may be audited at any time by state police inspectors.

Toll Facilities Police said a Cunningham truck, loaded with 22 tons of asphalt, swerved as it headed toward the southbound tunnel entrance at 4:19 p.m. Saturday, bounced off a Jersey barrier and crushed a Nissan Sentra driven by Kimberly Ann Schroeder, 23, of Eastpoint.

Before the accident was over, 11 other cars were damaged.

Ms. Schroeder later died of her injuries. Eight other people were injured.

The dump truck driver, John Willie Buie, 58, of Baltimore, was issued citations that said he was driving an overweight vehicle and driving a vehicle with defective brakes.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office was still considering whether to file criminal charges in the incident, a toll facilities spokesman said yesterday.

A lawyer for two of the injured motorists, Murray I. Resnick, said he filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits yesterday against Cunningham Paving and Mr. Buie.

One suit seeks $6 million on behalf of Vondi Harris, 23, of California, and another suit seeks $1.1 million for Timothy Todd Hughes, 25, of Pocomoke. Mr. Resnick said Mr. Hughes and Ms. Harris, both of whom are Morgan State University students, were injured when their 1988 Toyota pickup was hit by other vehicles in the chain-reaction accident.

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