Truck driver faulted in fatal crash in May

Report notes his fatigue, speed, lack of eyeglasses

October 27, 2004|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

A tractor-trailer driver who barreled into cars at the Fort McHenry Tunnel tollbooth last spring killing three people was fatigued, speeding and driving without his eyeglasses when he caused the fiery accident, according to a still-unreleased police investigation.

"This driver acted with complete disregard towards the public safety of those traveling on the highways in the state of Maryland," the report by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police concluded.

The report said the driver, John W. Castro of Clarksville, Tenn., did not apply his brakes until after he had struck the first car.

A cascading collision involving a total of five vehicles set a minivan and two tractor-trailers ablaze. The May 11 accident closed Interstate 95 during rush hour, tying up traffic well into the evening. Two people were injured.

Castro, 53, worked for Celadon Trucking Services of Indianapolis, Ind.

Transportation authority investigators described him as "solely at fault for this collision" and concluded his "gross negligence" constituted manslaughter.

Police and prosecutors said yesterday a criminal investigation continues, but no charges have been filed. The Transportation Authority Police declined to make their report public because of the unfinished criminal probe.

"I don't want to risk jeopardizing this case," said authority police Chief Gary W. McLhinney.

But his department did release the report, which was completed in August, to lawyers working on behalf of the victims and their survivors. They in turn provided its written findings to The Sun.

According to the report, Castro admitted to police that he had been traveling between 55 mph and 60 mph in a 50-mph zone. He also knew that the length of time he had been driving -- 16 hours and 48 minutes since his last 10 hours off duty -- exceeded government safety regulations, the report said.

Investigators also found that Castro was required to wear glasses for his 20/40 vision but wasn't wearing them at the time of the accident.

Record in question

Celadon drivers have a questionable safety record, according to government statistics that are disputed by the company. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has found that the company's drivers perform worse than 95 percent of the rest of the industry based on reported moving violations and roadside inspections.

In a 30-month period, the company's 2,201 drivers had 762 moving violations, the agency's statistics show.

A company spokesman, however, said yesterday that the federal statistics are inaccurate and that the company's protests have prompted a review.

"As a company that prides itself on road safety, we are certainly interested in the details of the final report. This was a very tragic accident, and our thoughts and sympathies continue to be with the families involved," said Celadon spokesman Craig Koven.

Koven said he was not sure whether company officials had reviewed a copy of the investigative report or whether Castro was still employed by Celadon.

Joyce Kaiser, who lives in the Clarksville, Tenn., home Castro listed as his address, said yesterday that he does not live there anymore. She described Castro as a close friend who lived with her family for years and at times supported them. But when he came back after the accident, she said, he was a broken, deeply troubled man.

"He doesn't really remember it," Kaiser said, referring to the accident. "When he first came home, I asked him what happened. He said all he remembered was that he was changing lanes one minute and the truck was on fire the next."

Three died in crash

Killed in the crash were a Virginia couple, Kyle A. Smith and Claire Gertrude Smith of Manassas, and Jamison M. Miller of Belcamp in Harford County.

After reading the police report, Mrs. Smith's daughter, Sharyn Obsatz, said she now believes the accident could have been avoided.

"I didn't know he wasn't wearing his glasses," Obsatz said. "It just seems so preventable."

Sun staff writer Stephen Kiehl contributed to this article.

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