The truck that killed four members of a college women’s softball team last year in Oklahoma was driven by a Texas man with a history of using synthetic marijuana, according to U.S. safety investigators. It appears that Russell Staley, the driver, needed help for his dependency on synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2. The man’s wife told her husband’s doctor about this problem about 13 months before the crash that occurred on Sept. 26, 2014. This was according to records released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Notes from Staley’s licensed professional counselor in August 2013 also showed he “had been using designer drugs at work” and needed help with stress, anger, low self-esteem, guilt and depression.
The finding comes ahead of a formal report expected to be released at a later date that will list the probable cause of the crash. Safety recommendations will also be made to avoid such tragedies in the future. Truck safety, as a result of the Wal-Mart Stores crash involving Tracy Morgan, has drawn renewed attention over the past several months. It appears that federal regulators and the industry are now working to find solutions that will reduce the death toll of almost 4,000 every year. Authorities are also struggling with the rising use of synthetic drugs. The board held a hearing last month in Washington and discussed the mounting problems.
To put the crash in this case in perspective, I will mention a few facts the investigation uncovered. After the crash, police found a silver pipe with burnt residue of 5-fluoro-AMB, a synthetic cannabinoid, but later drug testing could not confirm or rule out its presence in Staley’s blood. Staley, who was later charged with four counts of manslaughter, was driving north when his Quickway Transportation truck veered off an interstate highway, crossed a grassy median and struck the southbound bus carrying the team from North Central Texas College. Four players were killed in the crash. Staley was traveling at 72 miles per hour, and his rig traveled 1,100 feet and sideswiped the bus carrying 15 players and their coach. The team was returning home from a Friday night game.
The NTSB released 2,000 pages of documents on Nov. 16, including a transcript of a whistleblower call to the board from a supervisor who worked for Staley’s previous employer. The supervisor told a board investigator that Staley had been missing work, showing up late and not performing well. Staley told the supervisor he was smoking synthetic marijuana, which he referred to as spice, and that he had passed out in a park and didn’t know how long he had been there. When the supervisor told his boss about Staley’s problem, he said “it fell on deaf ears,” and the company neither took him off the road nor got him assistance, according to the report. The supervisor said he told his boss:
I told him, I said this guy’s going to kill somebody someday, you watch. And I’ll be damned, it happened.
This crash is just another example of why trucking companies must do a better job of hiring, training and monitoring their drivers. Lawyers in our firm who handle trucking litigation know that there are many drivers on the road who shouldn’t be driving large trucks. They also know that driver fatigue is a major problem.
Source: Insurance Journal
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