Driver Distraction a Factor in Fatal Oklahoma Crash

October 1, 2014

The driver of a tractor-trailer that crashed into a bus and killed four college students on Interstate 35 in southern Oklahoma told investigators he was distracted.

Russell Staley, 53, of Saginaw, Texas, was traveling northbound on Sept. 26 before crossing a 90-foot median into the southbound lanes near mile marker 47 in Murray County, said Ronnie Hampton, a captain with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Staley struck a bus carrying the women’s softball team of North Central Texas College in Gainesville.

“We know the semi was in the median for quite some time,” Hampton said in a press conference in Ardmore. “He made a statement that he was distracted in the vehicle.”

The statement is just one part of an investigation that could take months, said Hampton. It will include a review of the driver’s log books and precise measurements at the accident scene.

The collision took place about 9 p.m. in dry and clear weather. It killed four students and injured 11 passengers and the bus driver, Van Hedrick, 48, of Gainesville. The tractor- trailer crushed the side of the 2008 Champion Motor Coach, which was carrying the students from a scrimmage with Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma.
No Braking

The truck, a 2013 Peterbilt, showed no signs of braking or trying to avoid crossing the median, said Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, at a news briefing webcast yesterday.

Investigators didn’t find skid marks on a slight curve where the truck was being driven about 9 p.m., said Sumwalt.

“There was no indication of skidding or braking or evasive maneuvers,” Sumwalt said. “The truck did not follow the curve. We intend to find out why the truck did not follow the roadway.”

The driver of the 2013 Peterbilt truck, who worked for Quickway Transportation Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee, was treated and released from a hospital. Quickway, which operates about 300 trucks, according to its website, issued a statement offering condolences and saying that it was cooperating with the investigation.

Before the crash, Quickway had a good overall safety record in comparison to most trucking companies, according to data from the Federal Motor Safety Administration. For each of five publicly available categories tracked by the agency, including moving violations, Quickway was ranked better than average and below the threshold that would be considered a safety risk. In each of the five categories, there were no serious violations.

(With assistance from Jeff Plungis in Washington.)

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