In dark hours of an early winter morning, truckers are eager to miss rush hour traffic as they are headed out on their routes. Dispatchers advised that a winter weather advisory was expected. The temperature hovered right around freezing on the east side of the Snoqualmie Pass.
It was just before 5 a.m. when a dump truck and trailer carrying treated sewage hits a patch of ice.
The trucker had set his cruise control at 62 mph. He was attempting to merge from the right to the center lane, and lost control of the truck. He overcorrected his steering, swerving back across the highway. He hit a concrete barrier, and the truck and trailer tipped over on the passenger side, spilling the load of human waste.
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The fatal truck crash
Every lane of the highway was covered in sewage and blocked by the trailer.
A second tractor-trailer came up upon the scene. Unable to stop, and with all lanes blocked, the trucker sideswiped a pickup and then struck the trailer, causing the sewage to spread further across the lanes of traffic.
The driver of the third semi-truck was able to avoid a collision with the other vehicles by veering to the left and into the snow-covered median.
The driver of the fourth semi was unable to stop, due to the slick road conditions caused by the sewage on the highway, and struck the trailer of the third truck.
That driver, Mark, was pinned in the cab of his truck due to the force of the impact.
He was conscious while other drivers coming up on the hellish scene called 9-1-1. He stayed awake while first responders tried to free him from the truck cab. Although he had suffered extremely serious injuries, Mark was worried about the others involved in the collision, and asked rescuers to go check on them.
Tragically, they were not able to save Mark’s life. He died from a brain hemorrhage, and multiple fractures and lacerations, shortly after being freed from the semi-truck.
Investigating the crash
After Mark’s death, I had the privilege of representing his family along with attorney Lincoln Sieler of the Friedman Rubin law firm. We undertook a detailed investigation into the collisions, with the help of various trucking experts.
Investigating a fatal truck crash is a serious matter. While law enforcement officers try to document the scene and causes, they have very limited time—especially in situations like this one, where a major interstate highway was closed. For this case, which involved multiple collisions, the attorneys had to conduct numerous equipment inspections.
We had the modules and black boxes from each of the commercial trucks removed and preserved. We were able to interview many of the witnesses, and form a complete picture of the crash scene.
Here’s what we determined.
When your job is to haul 80,000-pound loads through mountain passes, you pay careful attention to the weather. You are trained to respond to unsafe operating conditions—such as freezing weather on Snoqualmie Pass.
On the morning of January 4, 2019, and for several days before, the Washington State Department of Transportation had issued winter weather warnings to drivers. The first trucker, the one who tipped his truck and trailer and caused the crashes, knew or should have known about the weather conditions.
A trucker is a professional driver. Truckers are trained to drive at a reasonable and prudent speed.Speed is determined according to the law, but also according to the conditions, including the truck and trailer’s cargo and weight, snow or rain, and mountain pass roads.
The first trucker was driving too fast for the winter weather conditions. He was driving too fast for the downslope of the highway. He was driving too fast to merge safely, and he was driving too fast to safely haul a load of human waste.
As anyone who has a Washington State driver’s license should know, you should never use cruise control when driving on icy roads. But if you’re driving your car and you hit a patch of black ice, you can take your foot off the gas and steer gently until you regain control of the vehicle. Losing control of a huge, heavy tractor-trailer is far more complicated.
When the roadway is wet or icy, the wheels lose traction. The purpose of cruise control is to maintain speed, so the computer accelerates the wheels—and the driver loses control.
That’s what happened to the first trucker. Not only was he ignoring the weather conditions, and speeding, but he also set the semi-truck’s cruise control.
Taking the lead on liability issues, Sieler and Coluccio Law worked on behalf of Mark’s wife and son.
One of the hardest things about a fatal truck crash case—or any case involving a death— is that we never meet the person. In cases like Mark’s, we learn about and their life and work and home from their family and loved ones.
And Mark was amazing person. In addition to commercial driving, Mark was a minister. His church group went to New Orleans to volunteer in hurricane rebuilding efforts. He flew planes, and traveled, and was beloved by many people. More than 500 hundred people came, from all over the U.S., for his celebration of life.
Our law firms were able to pursue the trucking company’s policy limits of $6 million for the involved parties, which the carrier for the responsible driver and company agreed to pay. Of the policy limits, we obtained nearly $4,500,000 for Mark’s family.
Local news coverage by Natalie Guevara, Seattle PI: Fatal collision, dangerous road conditions cause closure of Snoqualmie Pass
Attorney Kevin Coluccio of Coluccio Law and Attorney Lincoln Sieler, of counsel to Friedman Rubin, represented the Estate of James (Mark) Hayward for the fatal truck crash of January 4, 2019.
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Kevin Coluccio is the only Washington State-based attorney certified in Truck Accident Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.