Safety board looks for reasons, safety lessons in Oklahoma highway crash that killed 10 people

By Joan Lowy, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NTSB probes Okla. highway crash that killed 10

WASHINGTON — On a clear June afternoon last year, a minor collision had stopped traffic on a stretch of Interstate 44 in Oklahoma. Eastbound drivers cresting a rise could see the traffic jam ahead and began braking — all except for a single tractor truck hauling a semi trailer.

The 40,000-pound rig barreled ahead at 71 mph, smashing first into a Land Rover, knocking it off the highway. Then it rode over first one and then another car, dragging both vehicles under its wheels, before coming to a stop atop a minivan. Ten people were killed and the 76-year-old truck driver and three others were seriously injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board is meeting Tuesday to determine the cause of the accident and to make safety recommendations.

The accident has raised questions about possible driver fatigue, cell phone use and whether heavy trucks should be equipped with collision warning systems that give drivers both aural and visual alerts of other vehicles in their paths.

The truck driver, Donald L. Creed of Willard, Mo., left Springfield, Mo., just after 3 a.m. on June 26, 2009. By the time he was 90 miles northeast of Tulsa, the site of the wreck, he had been on the road for more than 10 hours. He had concluded a 22-minute cell phone call eight minutes before the crash.

Creed has already pleaded guilty to 10 counts of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor in Oklahoma. He was sentenced last month to 30 days in jail and 10 years’ probation.

Creed was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor was he speeding — the speed limit on the turnpike is 75 mph. Prosecutors said his inattention caused the crash. There is no evidence that he tried to brake or take evasive action before hitting the other cars, NTSB documents show.

Creed retired from the Kansas City-based Associated Wholesale Grocers shortly after the accident. He is barred from possessing a commercial driver’s license as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

There were a total of seven children in the six vehicles that were rammed by or dragged under the truck. A 6-year-old boy was killed and a 12-year-old girl was seriously injured. Motorists pulled some children out of rear windows of cars. Traffic was halted for hours as rescuers struggled in 115-degree heat to free people trapped in the wreckage.

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