Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Feds: Crash that killed three could have been avoided



The Associated Press

PIKEVILLE, Ky. - The deaths of three people who were killed when a 34-ton mining machine fell from a truck in Pike County might have been prevented if the truck driver's employer had done a background check before hiring him, a federal report concluded.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration fined JZ Trucking $11,160 for violating federal motor carrier regulations.

Three people died on June 23 when an auger used to drill coal out of the ground fell from the back of a truck driven by David Williams, 38, of Kimper.

Williams was driving south on U.S. 23 in Pikeville. The auger struck two vehicles in the northbound lanes.

Investigators concluded in a report obtained by the Appalachian News-Express of Pikeville that the crash may not have occurred if JZ Trucking complied with federal regulations that require drug screenings and background checks for drivers.

Williams has been indicted on three counts of murder. Tests showed he had traces of several drugs in his system. A Pike County grand jury did not return indictments against the trucking company or its owner.

Michael de Bourbon, a Pikeville attorney representing the company, said neither the findings nor the fines will be contested.

De Bourbon said JZ Trucking gave Williams a chance by hiring him, and that it is impossible to know whether a more thorough background check could have prevented the deaths.

JZ Trucking was cited for not requesting information from Williams' previous employers.

"This driver had numerous violations and crashes on his driving record," the inspectors said. They said if the company had checked Williams' record "he may never have been hired and this crash would not have occurred."

Williams had been arrested on drunk driving charges twice and had several traffic charges on his record before he was hired by JZ Trucking.

One drunk-driving charge was dismissed in April by Pike County District Judge Kelsey E. Friend Jr. Williams was convicted of the other one.

Federal investigators said JZ Trucking hadn't done the required drug screening before hiring Williams and other drivers.

"Mr. Johnny Pennington, president of JZ Trucking Inc., stated he knew the drug testing requirements, but elected not to implement them since he could not test for all drugs," the investigators said.

De Bourbon said the findings by the federal safety investigators contradict records Pennington presented to the Pike County grand jury.

"According to the records that were produced, he did have a drug program and he did test his people," de Bourbon said.

Federal investigators also cited JZ Trucking for failing to maintain records of inquiries into employee driving records, failing to require a driver to make a duty record, and failing to require a driver to prepare a vehicle inspection report.




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