The driver of a tractor-trailer that slammed into a Jeep Wrangler at high speed, killing four people on an Idaho interstate in 2018, had a long history of serious traffic violations and was likely fatigued when the accident occurred, federal investigators found.

In its final report on the June 16, 2018 crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the driver of the tractor-trailer, 42-year-old Illya Tsar of Rochester, New York, drifted in and out of his lane on I-84 East 20 times in the minutes before the fiery crash.

Deadly underride collision

Mr. Tsar’s tractor-trailer was traveling at 62 miles per hour when it collided with the back of a 2008 Jeep Wrangler driven by Senior Airman Carlos “C.J.” Johnson, 23, of Key West, Florida. The crash killed Mr. Tsar, Mr. Johnson, Senior Airman Lawrence “Pit” Manlapit III, 26, of Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Senior Airman Karlie A. Westall, 21, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Airmen were stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, about 50 miles south of Boise.

The high-speed collision pushed the Jeep underneath the tractor-trailer in front of it and crushed it. The initial impact triggered a chain of collisions involving several other vehicles and started a blaze that weakened the structure of a highway overpass. The bridge was subsequently rebuilt.

Driver fatigue

“The driver’s inability to maintain his vehicle’s lane positions, as well as his complete lack of response to the traffic queue as he came upon it, are consistent with a fatigue-related lapse in vigilance,” the NTSB concluded in its June 11 crash report.

Mr. Illya was hauling a shipment of apples from Yakima, Washington, to Albertsons in Methuen, Massachusetts, in a 2019 Volvo tractor-trailer. He had driven the route many times before for Krujex Freight Transport Corp., of Vancouver, Washington, and other carriers.

The NTSB found that the tractor-trailer’s electronic logging device (ELD) that tracked the vehicle’s movement showed Mr. Tsar violated hours-of-service (HOS) rules multiple times in the two days preceding the crash. Mr. Tsar told his employer that the ELD wasn’t working, so he was keeping his driving hours on a paper log.

However, comparing the paper HOS records to data from the ELD, which the NTSB said was working properly, revealed that Mr. Tsar falsified his driving records to make it look like he was in compliance with the federal regulations intended to prevent fatigue.

The numerous times that Mr. Tsar veered in and out of his lane into other lanes and onto the shoulder indicate he was likely falling asleep at the wheel. Toxicology tests showed that Mr. Tsar was negative for drugs and alcohol.

Multiple serious traffic violations

Mr. Tsar, an immigrant from Ukraine, held a commercial driver’s license since 2009. He had been driving for a little more than a year when the crash occurred.

The Idaho Statesman investigated the 2018 accident and found that Mr. Tsar had more than 20 driving violations, mostly in Oregon and Idaho. The paper also turned up evidence of even more violations in other states. New York suspended his license twice in 2017 after three serious violations in three years’ time. He also was twice cited in Oregon for driving with a suspended license.

A commercial trucking expert told the Statesman that Mr. Tsar’s driving record was one the worst he had ever seen.

“His record should have been a red flag to anybody who was considering the employment of his services, or the continuation of his employment as a truck driver,” Paul Herbert, a former trucker who runs the Western Motor Carrier Safety Institute in California, told the Statesman.

Crash avoidance system removed

The NTSB report also notes that the 2019 Volvo truck Mr. Tsar was driving had been marketed with a collision-avoidance system, the Volvo Active Driver Assist (VADA) system, as part of the standard vehicle equipment package. However, Krujex requested that the truck be delivered without the VADA system, providing a purchase savings of $2,524. The crash avoidance system could have warned Mr. Tsar about stalled and slowed traffic ahead and taken measures to prevent or at least mitigate the collision.

Oversight failures

The NTSB report also faults the Idaho Transportation Department for allowing the contractor on the highway construction project to shut down three of the four eastbound lanes, leaving just one lane open and creating a bottleneck that effectively trapped vehicles.

According to the report, an order from the contractor to a subcontractor to close the three lanes was not authorized but remained in place for several days. The authorized construction plan called for two lanes to remain open.

“The ITD work zone inspectors noted the lane closures in their traffic control maintenance diaries, but they did not take any action to address the fact that the lane closures exceeded those permitted by the traffic control plan or to resolve the resulting hazards associated with the traffic queue,” the NTSB report says.

As a result of the lane closures, traffic was backed up for more than a mile and vehicles traveling east on I-84 were already in stop-and-go traffic before there were any signs alerting them to construction ahead and reduced speed limit.

“By merely noting, and not preventing, the contractor’s deviation from the traffic control plan, the ITD work zone inspectors failed to conduct the oversight for which they had been placed on the scene in the construction area,” the report said. “The ITD also failed by not ensuring that its inspectors fulfilled their oversight duties.”

According to the Idaho Statesman, families of the three Air Force servicemembers who died in the crash filed wrongful death lawsuits against Krujex  Freight, the Idaho Transportation Department, the Idaho State Police, and the contractors and subcontractors involved in the construction project.

Truck accident litigation

As this story demonstrates, truck accidents are complicated scenes often involving a number of factors. When investigating a claim related to an 18-wheeler or other heavy truck accident, is imperative to have knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, technology, business practices, insurance coverages, and to have the ability to discover written and electronic records. Expert testimony is of utmost importance. Accidents involving semi-trucks and passenger vehicles often result in serious injuries and wrongful death. Trucking companies and their insurance companies almost always quickly send accident investigators to the scene of a truck accident to begin working to limit their liability in these situations. Our lawyers, staff and in-house accident investigators immediately begin the important task of documenting and preserving the evidence.

Truck accident lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Montgomery and Atlanta offices have experience in handling these types of claims. For more information, contact Chris Glover, Mike Crow, Donovan Potter or Parker Miller. They would be happy to provide more information or work with you on a claim.

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