Feb. 16–Following last week’s horrific 10-vehicle accident at the base of Fountain Grove Parkway in Santa Rosa, locals can be forgiven if they are more than a little nervous when driving in front of one of the ubiquitous debris trucks using local roads.
In addition to leaving three people critically injured, the accident has left many asking one basic question: Who is regulating all of these trucks and watching out to make sure they are operating in a safe manner? The answer may not be as apparent as it should be.
On any given day, as many as 200 to 500 loaded debris trucks are making trips to Sonoma County’s burned zones to the county landfill near Cotati. Some of those trucks are carrying loads that exceed their capacity, according to county officials. Those weight limits are set to ensure the trucks are not a hazard when out on the public roadways.
What’s not clear is how well those trucks have been maintained, how well the drivers have been trained and whether their brakes have been checked lately.
Weight and brakes may have been issues on Feb. 5 when a debris truck failed to stop at a red light and plowed through the crowded intersection of Fountain Grove Parkway and Mendocino Avenue triggering an inferno of damaged vehicles and a cloud of black smoke that rattled the nerves of Santa Rosans still shaken by the fires of October. The driver, Francisco Alberto Rodriguez, 45, of Sunnyvale, told authorities that his brakes failed as his loaded truck made the steep descent from Fountaingrove.
As of last week, officers from the Santa Rosa Police Department and the CHP were still investigating the accident. The speed and weight of the four-axle dump truck were part of that review, police say.
The results of that investigation will be critical. But what assurances are there that such accidents won’t happen again?
Responding to and recovering from these devastating fires has been a complex endeavor, one that has come with a number of unforeseen problems. Oversight of truck safety appears to be one of those problems, a responsibility that appears to have no clear master.
Local law enforcement say they lack the resources to ensure debris trucks are complying with weight limits.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for oversight and management of the overall cleanup, but officials say they rely on drivers to know the weight capacity of their trucks and abide by it.
The state Department of Transportation sets weight limits for commercial vehicles but is not responsible for checking on vehicles on a daily basis. CHP performs random weight checks on trucks on the highways. But it is not set up to monitor the steady stream of loaded vehicles descending from the heights of Fountaingrove, nor does a truck weigh station exist on Highway 101 between Santa Rosa and the Sonoma County landfill.
Since the accident, Burlingame-based ECC, the main government contractor in charge of clearing the burned residential lots, has put up electronic signs on Fountain Grove Parkway cautioning drivers of debris trucks to use low gears on the steep hill. They also are encouraged to drove just 25 mph.
Urging truckers to slow down is a start. But all agencies involved in the cleanup need to speed up the process of identifying who is going to provide oversight for truck safety. Given the wear and tear on these vehicles from traveling Fountain Grove Parkway with heavy loads, this is an accident that’s just waiting to happen, again.
After fiery wreck, a loaded question: Who enforces debris truck weights?
Dump truck driver in fiery Santa Rosa crash reported brake failure
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