The investigation into a fatal accident in Warfield two years ago officially drew to a close last month following the release of the BC Coroner’s final report.
The Trail Times obtained a copy of the coroner’s conclusion this week, which identified the factors involved in the crash, which occured early afternoon on May 3, 2013.
Truck driver Frederick Wayne Wilkinson, listed as a resident of Cornwall Ont., died of multiple traumatic injuries, after his loaded tractor trailer crashed at the bottom of the Rossland Hill in Warfield.
Coroner Janice Riley noted that an autopsy was not warranted to determine cause of death, but a subsequent toxicology screen detected no substances.
While she classified the cause as accidental, Riley states that a damaged brake air line behind the glad hand bulkhead was a significant contributory factor in 52-year old’s death.
She notes in her January 2015 report that an RCMP forensic traffic re-constructionist determined that the rear trailer had no brake application because the air line was kinked behind the glad hand bulkhead.
After that finding, the police reviewed the truck’s maintenance records and found that the glad bulkhead was replaced in January 2013. She concurs with the RCMP’s conclusion that damage to the air brake line likely occurred at that time, but may not have been evident until warmer weather possibly kinked the plastic connector.
Riley says that the area where the air line was located would not normally be accessed by an operator of the vehicle but would be examined during regular maintenance by a heavy duty mechanic.
Wilkinson was an experienced Class 1 driver, but had only been employed for two weeks by Sutco Contracting Ltd., a Salmo-based trucking company.
The day of the accident, the truck was travelling down the Rossland Hill headed to Korpack Cement Products in Annable to deliver a full load of cement cinder blocks.
Glen Wakefield, Sutco’s director of health and safety, told the Trail Times on Tuesday, that the company received the RCMP’s traffic investigation information shortly after the accident.
“From our end, there were two things we had to look at from this report,” explained Wakefield.
“First, we had to track down where the vehicle was last serviced, so we went on that route. The secondary part of it, is that we had to investigate why the driver was not aware that the trailer was not braking.”
He said Sutco reviewed the company’s training policies to ensure driver training was adequate, up to date, and that all drivers were fully cognizant of their responsibilities.
“Part of the due diligence of a brake check is to of course, check your wheels, see if your hubs are hot, the tires are all inflated, there’s air coming through to the system and that the whole unit is braking properly,” said Wakefield. “Number two is that in the cab there are air gauges. That will tell you how much air you are using every time you make a brake application.
“If for example, I was using only five pounds of air when I should be using 10, I would start looking to see what was going on.”
Wakefield maintains that if the driver had identified that air wasn’t getting to the back trailer, then the company would have told him to stop.
“But we were never informed that there were any problems, and in our close proximity, we would have had a service truck out there immediately,” he added.
Another observation the RCMP forensic team reported was that the truck and lead trailer break linings showed evidence of extreme heat exposure, causing the brakes to malfunction. Those findings correspond to witness statements describing flames and smoke coming from the brakes on the first trailer prior to the collision.
“The RCMP forensic collision re-constructionist states in his report that ‘it is evident that mechanical failure of the commercial vehicle was a significant contribution factor in this collision,’” she added.
Riley notes the two runaway lanes available to drivers traveling down the highway toward the village, and that the road was in good repair with a dry, bare surface.
Wilkinson was driving a 2012 Cascadia Freightliner pulling a super B flatdeck unit loaded with cement blocks when he lost control, crossed the highway, rolled over once and came to rest on an unoccupied parked pickup trick in the westbound ditch.
The pickup truck had been in used by three village workers who were working in the immediate area but were able to avoid serious injury by seeking cover when another vehicle’s air horn was used to warn them.