June 16–The driver of a fire debris truck who police say was responsible for a violent wreck in Santa Rosa that injured seven people failed to follow proper maintenance protocols, had limited brake training and was working for a company rated “unsatisfactory” by the California Highway Patrol, according to the final crash report from the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Francisco Alberto Rodriguez, 45, of Sunnyvale, was behind the wheel of a heavy-duty dump truck when it blew through a red light in February at the intersection of Fountaingrove Parkway and Mendocino Avenue on the city’s north end. He told police his brakes failed right before colliding with five vehicles, setting off a chain-reaction crash that involved a total of 10 vehicles, several of which burst into flames.
Three motorists were sent to the hospital with critical injuries, including one who was paralyzed. The resulting inferno took firefighters nearly an hour to get under control.
Rodriguez told Santa Rosa police investigators immediately after the crash that the maintenance schedule called for him to adjust his brakes before he drove the morning of Feb. 5, but he chose to wait until the afternoon, postponing a safety check that never happened, the report stated. He also told investigators he had received minimal instruction on brake safety — a statement later backed by his employer, Flores Trucking Co. of Vallejo, according to the report.
Its completion was announced June 2, when a Santa Rosa police sergeant detailed many of the key findings but withheld the report pending review by the department’s records division. The Press Democrat obtained the full report Thursday from an attorney for one of the crash victims after the Police Department declined to release it as part of a public records request.
Santa Rosa police concluded Rodriguez was in violation of a vehicle code for not ensuring his brakes were in good working condition, which caused the accident.
Rodriguez was hired in December by Flores Trucking, according to police. Jose Flores told investigators that he had no specific training requirements, and that, because Rodriguez had past experience as a commercial hauler, he trusted Rodriguez’s assertion that he already knew how to inspect the truck. He offered the new driver little brake adjustment training, police stated in their report.
Rodriguez acknowledged to investigators in a follow-up interview in May that state traffic rules require he check the commercial rig’s brakes every three days, the report stated.
In the week following the violent crash, accident specialists with CHP’s Golden Gate Division inspected the burned truck and its charred contents. They determined three of its eight brakes were out of adjustment.
During the four-month investigation, Santa Rosa police also found that a separate CHP unit graded Flores Trucking’s maintenance program “unsatisfactory” because it did not meet state regulations, though the date of that rating was unclear. The CHP asserted it was unable to determine if the company’s drivers could safely operate trucks, but believed at least one was put to work before the driver had sufficient training, the report said.
Attorney Rick Jacobson, who represents Rodriguez and Flores Trucking, declined to comment Friday. Messages left on Friday for ECC, the Burlingame company that subcontracted debris hauling to Flores Trucking as part of its government cleanup contract, also went unreturned.
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