State inspectors last year found five brake violations on a dump truck that barreled out of control down a hill Friday, slamming into a commuter bus and 18 cars during a fiery chain-reaction crash that killed four people.
The truck is owned by American Crushing and Recycling LLC of Bloomfield, formerly known as Wilcox Trucking Inc. DMV records show that Wilcox had numerous violations between 1994 and 2001, including 448 mechanical violations.
Investigators suspect mechanical failure in the truck, which they said went airborne briefly as it came down Route 44, known as Avon Mountain Road, and crossed into oncoming traffic. Police believe the truck driver was trying to swerve back onto the right side of the highway when he careened into the cars and a bus stopped at the intersection with Route 10.
Thirty people were involved in Friday’s accident. Fifteen people were taken to the hospital. By Friday afternoon, four remained in critical condition. The rest were treated and released.
The Mack truck, which was temporarily taken out of service last year after the violations were found, was also cited in December 2002 for three violations involving axle problems. One required the truck to be taken off the road, according to state Department of Motor Vehicle records.
Initial reports said at least five people were killed. Officials revised the number to three deaths Friday morning before confirming a fourth fatality. Avon Police Capt. Mark Rinaldo said the number could be revised again as rescuers worked through the twisted metal.
"We're removing the bodies as delicately as we can," Rinaldo said.
Commuters trapped in burning cars
The chain-reaction crash started when the truck collided with the bus near the intersection of Route 44 and Route 10, said Ed Lescoe, a spokesman for the Capitol Region Emergency Planning Agency. That sparked a fire that engulfed several vehicles, including the truck.
"When first responders arrived, the dump truck was fully engulfed and three of the vehicles were burned beyond recognition." Rinaldo said. Several people were trapped in their cars, but police were able to free them before the fires spread.
A surgeon on his way to work at University of Connecticut's John Dempsey Hospital was one of the first to offer assistance.
"Everyone who was in the intersection just got smashed," said Dr. Scott Kurtzman, who said he narrowly missed getting hit himself by the truck. "He looked like he was up on two wheels."
Kurtzman and others helped pull dazed passengers from burning cars and performed CPR.
"They would have died in their cars if we didn't get them out," Kurtzman said. "Everybody did the best they could. We're just sorry we couldn't help everybody."
Connecticut may change speed limits
In Hartford, Gov. M. Jodi Rell expressed sympathy for the victims' families and said the state may consider reducing speed limits and more strictly enforcing speeding and tailgating laws.
"I think of all of us who get up in the morning and get ready for work," she said. "You go through your daily chores and you really don't realize sometimes that this could be the last day of your life. And I think it should give us all a moment of pause."
Crews from seven cities and towns responded to the accident, which occurred shortly after 7:30 a.m. and shut down Route 44 during the morning commute. Avon is about 10 miles northwest of Hartford and on a major commuter route.
Krystyna Klepacki, manager of a nearby day spa, said there's been numerous accidents at the intersection.
"We're all very shaken up by this obviously," she said. "It's in our back yard, so to speak."
Bus passengers not seriously injured
The bus was a state-owned transit bus leased to Kelley Transit in Torrington, said company manager Joe Coe. It was carrying eight commuters and a driver from Winsted to Hartford.
The driver, whose name was not released, was taken by helicopter to Hartford Hospital, Coe said. The passengers were not seriously injured, he said.
Rinaldo would not comment on the condition of the dump truck's driver, but a red tarp covered the truck's cab.