Fatal crash is blamed on error by driver Trucker was killed when tanker flipped on Beltway ramp

October 29, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Driver error was the cause of a fiery tanker crash in August that killed the truck's driver and closed the Baltimore Beltway, according to a two-month investigation concluded yesterday by the Maryland State Police.

The investigation found no evidence of mechanical failure and no indication that another vehicle was a factor. Interviews with witnesses, a reconstruction of the accident and an examination of the truck pointed to a miscalculation by driver Lagant Crosby, said Brad Harrold, who reconstructs accidents for the state police.

"What it boiled down to was, for whatever reason, he went into that ramp too fast," Harrold said yesterday. "He failed to slow down so that he could safely negotiate the curve. This was driver error."

Harrold said his investigation included the condition of the ramp where the accident occurred, the parts of the tractor and trailer that survived the crash and explosion, the history of the truck and witnesses' accounts.

Covering 'all the bases'

"It was such a catastrophic collision that I wanted to cover all the bases," he said.

Crosby, 29, of the 3400 block of Rockwood Ave. was employed by Hardesty and Son Inc. of Edgewater. He was driving a 1997 Ford truck on the inner loop ramp linking the Beltway to Interstate 83 on Aug. 18 when he hit a barrier.

The tanker flipped over the barrier, and most of the 8,500 gallons of gasoline it was carrying burned in a fire that seared the underside of the Beltway and prompted the evacuation of a nearby neighborhood.

The tanker was divided into four compartments that held gasoline, Harrold said. When the contents of a truck holding thousands of gallons of liquid begin to slosh, the momentum can push the truck off course, he said.

Unstable load

"He was carrying a liquid load, which is one of the most unstable loads you can have," Harrold said.

Harrold said the half-dozen witnesses he interviewed agreed that the truck's brake lights did not flash until after the truck had bumped into the barrier, Harrold said. That was too late, he said.

"He was in past the point of no return. At the point that he hit his brakes, he was just along for the ride," Harrold said.

Harrold said he found nothing to suggest that the truck's steering or suspension failed. What was left of the truck after the crash and the fire showed damage consistent with hitting the barrier but no evidence of other breakage, he said.

That evidence matched witnesses' accounts of seeing the truck's rear tires leave the road as the front of the trailer bumped into the barrier, he said.

'Too fast'

"The witnesses were almost all unanimous that the truck was going 50 miles an hour," Harrold said. That is the posted limit on the ramp but was too fast for the load the truck was carrying, he said.

"That's too great for the conditions, for the type of vehicle he's driving and the load he's hauling," Harrold said. A driver with Crosby's experience and education -- he had a commercial driver's license and regularly drove the same truck with similar liquid loads -- could be expected to adjust his speed, Harrold said.

His investigation found no reason to lower the speed limit on the ramp, Harrold said.

Shortly after the accident, the State Highway Administration put two new signs on the ramp. One lowers the suggested safe speed to 35 mph from 40 mph. The other shows a truck tipping as it goes around a sharp curve.

"The posted sign was fine," said SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar. "But people tend to go over [the cautionary speed], so we lowered it. Extra caution can't hurt."

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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