A few years ago, ICSA reported on a devastating truck-at-fault fatal crash that occurred in April 2019 on Interstate 70 near Denver. The driver in question was a rookie with a new CDL whose company was a five-truck fleet based in Houston, Texas. He had never driven on mountain roads before, nor had he received any training on how to do so safely. He was traveling 85 mph when his brakes failed on the I-70 downgrade leading into a Denver suburb. He hit the stopped traffic at full speed, creating a 28-car pileup that killed four, injured dozens of others and closed the highway for many hours. (Think this can’t happen to your driver or your company? Read more below about this crash and the driver’s trial and conviction.)
Many carriers don’t or can’t provide their drivers the type of training necessary to improve driving behaviors on mountainous roads, so ICSA’s safety consultants got together to create a new Mountain Driving chapter in our FirstGear online driver training program. FirstGear is a free-to-members program to provide valuable training to CDL drivers regardless of their years of experience. The Mountain Driving curriculum includes topics of pre-trip tips and preparation, how to best ascend and descend a mountain, and additional preparedness information.
The link to FirstGear training can be found on the member’s profile page when you log on to ICSA’s website.
The driver at fault in the April 2019 Colorado crash was a 23-year-old Cuban immigrant hauling a load of lumber over the mountainous and winding terrain of Interstate 70. After his brakes failed, he missed several runaway truck ramps available to drivers on that downhill stretch of interstate. Investigators later said the driver had poor English skills and was not able to understand the signage.
Following a high-profile trial, the driver later was convicted of vehicular homicide and 23 other charges, including six counts of assault in the first degree (extreme indifference); 10 counts of attempt to commit assault in the first degree (extreme indifference); two counts of vehicular assault (reckless); one count of reckless driving; and four counts of careless driving causing death.
In December 2021, the driver was sentenced to 110 years in prison, the minimum required by Colorado law at the time. The presiding judge said he believed the sentence was extreme but that he had no choice under state law. More than four million people signed an online petition filed by Change.org asking that the sentence be reduced. The petition organizer reported that the trucking company employing the driver should be held responsible. The company had received several inspections since 2017 with a number of mechanical violations.
At the time, the Houston-based trucking company carried only $750,000 of liability insurance, the minimum required under federal law. The company dissolved and closed its doors just a few months after the I-70 crash.
On December 30, 2021, Colorado’s governor intervened to reduce the driver’s sentence to ten years. However, this driver’s life and his family’s lives will never be the same, nor will the lives of the families of those killed or injured in the crash. Take steps to make sure this never happens to you, your drivers or your company. Log in and set up access for Mountain Driving in FirstGear!