It’s a common ― and an arguably worrisome sight ― for drivers in the Butler County area. A semi-tractor trailer weighed down with steel coils snaking its way along the road with chains holding them in place.
Many drivers say they keep their distance. Others look for a place to pass, not wanting to be behind the truck if the coil toppled off.
But that is what happened last week when 33-year-old Blake A. Mulder of Seven Mile was killed when a coil weighing 22,430 pounds fell on his SUV as a semi passed by him on U.S. 127 in St. Clair Twp.
The crash happened about 6:20 a.m. Sept. 15 on U.S. 127 near Morganthaler Road. A semi-tractor trailer owned by Total Package Express, Inc. was traveling north on U.S. 127, also called Hamilton Eaton Road, and was carrying a steel coil that became unsecured, fell into the southbound lane and struck Mulder’s SUV, the sheriff’s office said. Mulder was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two crash reports were filed in connection with the fatal crash report — one from the semi driver, Keith Blackwell of Louisville, Kentucky, who reported about 6:15 a.m. that another truck almost ran him off the road, and a second involving two drivers whose vehicles were disabled when they drove into the crash debris field.
Blackwell called 911 to report a coil had fallen in the road, but he didn’t know another vehicle had been hit, according to the call. The semi driver told dispatchers another driver had run him off the road a few miles back and there is a report about that incident that happened prior to the fatal crash. Could that have had an effect on tiedowns holding the coil on the trailer?
Ultimately the drivers are responsible for their load, said Sgt. Steven Poff of the Butler County Sheriff’s office accident investigation unit.
“It is like anything else. A pilot, a driver, you are responsible for your load. You are responsible for your vehicle, nobody else,” he said. “So if you had an incident no matter where it occurred or what the premise was, you are still responsible for it.”
Poff said there are several aspects to investigate, including the “life” of the securing mechanisms holding the coil to the semi. In other words, should they have been replaced due to wear and are there guidelines.
It’s not unusual for semis to lose steel coils, but usually, the semi-trailer will twist and lose a whole load. A single coil breaking free and hitting another vehicle is not something Poff said he has seen before.
“In this case, it is the ties downs that broke,” Poff said. “Now it is a question of why that occurred. It is kind of a scary thought if the tiedowns are breaking and it’s not a matter of the trailer rolling over.”
Poff said they continue to probe exactly what happened and if traffic or criminal charges are warranted.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and Ohio State Patrol are responsible for enforcement of safety regulations for semis and together perform approximately 80,000 roadside inspections of commercial trucks annually.
Matt Schilling, spokesman for the PUCO said, “Motor carrier safety regulation is a federal and state partnership. Specifically, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enforces federal regulations related to the safe shipment of commercial goods. Their jurisdiction extends to trucking companies that cross state lines. In Ohio, the PUCO is the lead agency for motor carrier enforcement within the state of Ohio. We do this through a partnership with the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Ohio has adopted the federal motor carrier safety guidelines, and PUCO and OSHP officers are able to enforce these regulations on the roads.”
During roadside inspections, both the vehicle and the driver will be inspected to ensure they are complying with safety regulations.
“Violations can include written citations accompanied with monetary fines, they can also result in a vehicle being put ‘out-of-service.’ Out-of-service violations are those that are an immediate threat to highway safety. For example, a flat tire, malfunction breaks, or an insecure load. Out-of-service violations must be fixed before that truck can drive again,” Schilling said.
The transport of steel coils, specifically, has precise load securement regulations outlined in federal regulations, Schilling said.
Total Package Express Inc. trucks were inspected 128 times over the last 24 months, as of Aug. 27, and 29 times those resulted in an out-of-service violation, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Safety records.
Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Clint Arnold, commander of the Hamilton Post, said “any commercial vehicle that loses its load is always a concern of ours.”
Arnold said the highway patrol has an entire division dedicated to state regulations semi hauling, but all law enforcement can issue tickets.
“This crash was a little unique. At some point before the crash the load had either shifted or came loose,” Arnold said. He added he has seen coils hit other vehicles, but only when the semi has overturned and lost the load.