Blowout cited in log-truck crash

Highway police join inquiry; 2 workers killed identified

The Arkansas State Police has asked the Arkansas Highway Police to examine a logging truck that crashed near the Archey Creek bridge in Clinton and spilled its load, killing two construction workers and injuring 19 others, a state official said Tuesday.

State police identified the dead as Ricardo Trochez, 40, of Atkins and Hubert Keith Moore, 51, of Chester.

Jerry Hickman, 39, of Bee Branch was traveling south on U.S. 65 and approaching Arkansas 16 at 3:18 p.m. Monday when the Peterbilt TTL he was driving had a "blow out on the left rear" of its trailer, causing a shift in its load, a state police report said.

The trailer overturned, spilling logs onto the bridge and roadway. The logs then struck construction workers who were there for a bridge-widening project.

State police spokesman Bill Sadler said investigators aren't limiting their investigation to just the tire blowout.

"We're looking at equipment and looking at the driver and everything that you would normally do in the investigation of the crash," he said.

It was unclear Tuesday who owned the logging truck, built in 1999.

The construction workers were employed by either Mobley Contractors Inc. of Morrilton or a subcontractor, Marshall Construction of Mountainburg, said a man at Mobley Contractors who did not want to give his name. He didn't know who owned the "independent logging truck."

Hickman, the driver, suffered minor injuries. He could not be reached for comment by telephone Tuesday. He does not have a number listed in directory assistance for Bee Branch.

Nine workers were still being treated at Little Rock hospitals Tuesday, one of whom was expected to be released later in the day.

None of the five at UAMS Medical Center suffered life-threatening injuries, spokesman Katrina Dupins said. At St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, one patient was in serious condition and the other in good condition, spokesman Margaret Preston said. Because the two patients at Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock had not signed release documents, spokesman Mark Lowman said he could not release their conditions.

Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, confirmed Tuesday that the state police had asked the highway police to help in the investigation.

"We have been asked to do a post-crash inspection of the vehicle," Ort said.

Ort said he did not know who owned the truck.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration also joined the investigation Tuesday. Van Buren County Sheriff Scott Bradley said the agency sent several representatives to the area.

Police had to close part of U.S. 65 after the wreck, but the highway was reopened and traffic was "pretty much" back to normal by Tuesday, Bradley said. But "there's still a lot of logs" to be removed, he said.

Transportation officials will determine "the working condition of that truck, and that could turn into an issue," Bradley said.

In an unrelated development, the highway police began participating in an annual safety road check of commercial vehicles Tuesday. The check, which runs through Thursday, is taking place in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"The fact that [the inspections] began today [Tuesday] less than 24 hours after the accident occurred is purely coincidental," said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Highway Department.

Arkansas officers will primarily inspect drivers and their vehicles, according to a department news release.

Highway police officers will be at the Benton eastbound inspection station on Interstate 30. They will also be on U.S. 82 at the Greenville bridge and other random locations.

Drivers will be checked for, among other things, seat-belt usage and the use of alcohol or drugs. Vehicle inspection will cover a wide range of items such as the braking system, tires and emergency exits on buses.

Information for this article was contributed by Scott Carroll of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

State Desk on 06/04/2014

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