It was a tragic accident: Four people killed in a fiery Paso Robles truck crash on Christmas Eve, as they traveled to a holiday dinner. As the semi-truck driver who hit the vehicle now stands trial, prosecutors argue the fatal truck accident was preventable. In the time since the crash occurred in 2014, disturbing details have been revealed about the circumstances that led up to the crash and the events that took place after it. Allegations against the driver—who is now standing trial—including repeated gross negligence and an attempt to erase the track records after the accident. Meanwhile, more dangerous truck accidents continue to occur throughout the state of California, including a bizarre incident where a big rig dragged a passenger vehicle down the highway for nearly a mile.
Semi-Truck Driver Facing Charges for Role in Paso Robles Truck Crash
More than three years after the fatal crash that took the lives of four friends on their way to a Christmas Eve dinner in California, Phillip Ken Trujillo, a 56-year-old truck driver from Las Vegas, is on trial for his part in their deaths. Trujillo faces four felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter.
On the day of the Paso Robles truck crash, Trujillo had dropped off a full trailer and picked up an empty one in San Luis Obispo for the return trip to Las Vegas. Soon after departing San Luis Obispo, mechanical issues in the truck became apparent, according to the prosecution. While Trujillo had started his trip traveling at 65 mph, the truck was slowing rapidly, so much so that Trujillo pulled over for 30 minutes, as evidenced by computer logs.
It was at this first stop that the prosecution said that Trujillo should have called for a tow truck. Instead, he continued his trip, traveling east on Highway 41. The issues plaguing Trujillo’s truck stuck with him, and he pulled over three more times, each time getting back on the highway and eventually getting on the 101 northbound.
As Trujillo neared the San Paso Truck Stop a little north of Paso Robles, it’s believed he began a left turn into the truck stop. By this point, however, San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Charles Blair says the truck was moving “significantly slower than the speed limit” and the turn into the truck stop resulted in Trujillo’s vehicle staying in the intersection for approximately 14 seconds.
In surveillance camera footage from the San Paso Truck Stop, two vehicles are shown swerving around Trujillo’s slow-moving truck before a 1992 Chrysler Town and Country van, driven by 22-year-old Crystal Reuck, collides with the big rig and bursts into flames. The impact shoved the van under the semi-truck (a type of truck accident known as an underride crash) and sheared off the top of the van. Reuck and two of her passengers (22-year-old Taylor M. Swarthout and 45-year-old Karen Michelle Szasz) were pronounced dead at the scene and a third passenger, 42-year-old David Castillo, was taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital before succumbing to his injuries.
According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Frank Packard, who responded to the Paso Robles truck crash, the scene was nothing but “body parts and debris.”
Blair and the prosecution say that Trujillo was grossly negligent because he was aware of the mechanical safety issues with his truck but did not respond accordingly, and did not choose to have the vehicle towed. Instead, Blair says Trujillo’s actions demonstrate “a string and a pattern of conduct that shows willful and wanton disregard for other drivers.”
Additionally, the CHP suspects Trujillo attempted to erase information from his vehicle’s onboard computer to hide the fact that his truck was malfunctioning. CHP Officer Timothy Maxwell has testified to hearing Trujillo on his cellphone following the crash repeating aloud instructions that Maxwell believes were intended to help Trujillo erase the computer codes.
The Paso Robles truck crash trial is expected to be completed by mid-May of 2017.
Big Rig Blaze Shuts Down California State Route 52
May 10, 2017
As the Paso Robles truck crash trial was underway, another fiery semi-truck crash was occurring, this one in San Diego.
A tractor-trailer traveling on State Route 52 in Tierrasanta at 10:30 p.m. caught fire for unknown reasons. The fire, which started under the hood, but fortunately did not spread to the trailer, was severe enough that CHP had to shut State Route 52 in the area while firefighters worked to put out the fire and quell the flames that had spread to nearby vegetation.
According to CHP, two vehicles that pulled over to aid the truck driver were involved in a small crash, but no injuries were sustained. The semi-truck driver had minor injuries and received treatment at the scene.
Semi-Truck Driver Drags Car Down I-15 for Almost a Mile
April 19, 2017
In one of the most unusual—and frightening—truck accidents in California, a driver videotaped a big rig traveling at normal speeds along I-15 with a Nissan Maxima being dragged alongside it.
Brian Steimke was the driver who noticed the bizarre sight and recorded the footage that has since been viewed more than half a million times. As Steimke traveled near the truck and the Nissan, the driver, being dragged by the semi-truck, waved his arm out the window to try and catch Steimke’s attention.
“He’s not stopping,” the Nissan driver shouted about the semi-truck driver who was obliviously pulling him down the roadway.
Steimke attempted to catch the truck driver and aid the driver inside the Nissan, but by the time he could do so, another driver had slowed down in front of the big rig to force it to pull over. Once they were pulled over, Steimke approached the truck driver's finding, in disbelief, that the driver said he did not know the Nissan was there.
Shockingly, the driver of the Nissan was not injured. The CHP did not charge the semi-truck driver.