Local news media have been reporting that three people died in a high speed crash with a tractor trailer that happened in Gainesville at 1AM on Friday. Setting aside the human tragedy for a moment, this story reflects one of the biggest problems for the victims family in ever getting a balanced understanding of what happened that night. As any car accident attorney in Gainesville Georgia knows, the is a substantial danger of evidence and witnesses dissappearing by the time someone investigates on behalf of the family.
Facts of the Tractor Trailer Accident
Satellite View of Intersection Prior to Traffic Light Install
The police report is not ready yet, but Corporal Holbrook with the Gainesville Police Department has indicated that it appears the Ford Escape Pickup turned left across the path of the tractor trailer. Photos at the scene show significant front end damage to the tractor and the Ford Cab is sheared clean off of the chassis, which is consistent with a high energy impact. The key issue with a signalized intersection will, of course, be the color of the traffic light at the time the pickup turned left. If the eyewitness data shows that the pickup had the light and the tractor trailer ran their signal, legal responsibility should fall on the driver.
One of the key pieces of evidence that can disappear is the surveillance footage from the RaceTrac gas station that the pickup was turning into, We have been able to secure the tape in the past and if the officers are well trained in this case, they will have already asked for the footage.
Reviewing photographs from the scene, it appears that the Point of impact was all the way across the highway and almost into the RaceTrac gas station. If that is true, then we know the pickup was almost all the way through the intersection at the time of the impact. Using an expert reconstructionist, one can determine how many seconds of warning the tractor trailer driver would have had and we would then look for skid marks from the tractor. If there are no skidmarks, the case becomes a problem for the trucking company unless the other evidence shows the Ford ran the light.
Another piece of evidence that reconstructionist will look at is the download from the electronic control module on the tractor trailer. Late model trucks will all record data on speed, gear position, rpm and braking for the seconds before the impact. That data can be erased so one hopes that the police department is already on top of it.
The final piece to the puzzle will be the blood work on both drivers and the driver’s logs. It is 1AM and alcohol frequently plays a role in these crashes. Under the Federal Regs, the trucking company is required to test their driver for drugs and alcohol in a crash with fatalities, so we should expect the trucking company to do that.
For the truck driver, if he drives past the 100 mile radius, the chicken company will have to keep logs on the hours he has been on the road. Given that we are in North Georgia and the plant is there, it is unlikely he was over the maximum drive time, but there are cases where the driver has simply been on his feet too long and general fatigue plays a role in those cases.
As an aside, we litigated a crash involving a chicken processing company last year and the trucking company tried to argue that they were exempt from certain Federal Regulations as an Agricultural carrier. This was an important issue because if they were right, the case would move from Dekalb County courts to Cobb County. A close reading of the statute shows that in order to be exempt the company actually has to raise the chicken, not just transport other peoples chicken to processing. Hopefully the family’s lawyer will be tuned into the distinction.
Over 16 years of working trucking wrecks, one of the repeated themes that we see if just the quest for understanding of how it happened. Families want to know the why of a tragedy and when the investigation is one sided, it is difficult to come to terms with the loss. We will follow the investigation on this one and see how the details come out. Here is the WSBTV coverage of the story.