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Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

Officials doubt driver’s report of failed brakes

Investigators into death at toll booth say truck hit terminal at full speed

October 19, 2000

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— The driver of a tractor-trailer that smashed through a Kansas Turnpike toll both, killing a collector and injuring four other people, said his brakes failed.

But investigators say they don't think that's what happened.

Monday's crash at the turnpike's Southern Terminal in Sumner County killed Eva "Pat" Wood, 58, of Belle Plain, a collector popular with both her fellow workers and regular users of that stretch of Interstate 35.

On Tuesday, many drivers passing through the terminal were leaving donations in her memory.

As flags flew at half-staff, workers tried to get back to normal, but the day was anything but usual as the conspicuous absence of the booth on Lane 5 reminded everyone of the loss.

Wood had been with the Turnpike Authority for 16 years, and family members said she preferred working in the busiest lane at the toll plaza, the one truckers seemed to use.

She died when a 1999 Volvo truck with a Great Dane trailer barreled through her lane, striking a pickup in front of it and shearing Wood's toll booth off its reinforced foundation.

The tractor also struck an Oldsmobile in front of the pickup as it smashed through the booth.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, Neal Johnson, 45, of St. Peter, Minn., told investigators that his brakes had failed.

"We don't believe that that's possible," Conboy said. "We're looking at going back and trying to determine how many miles he drove last week to determine if fatigue was a factor."

There were no entries in Johnson's log book, Conboy said. Truck drivers are required by law to log their miles and cannot drive more than 70 hours in seven days, Conboy said.

Johnson, whom doctors released from Sumner County Regional Hospital after treating him for cuts to his face and head and neck pain, told officials "he stepped on his clutch and nothing happened and his brakes failed," Conboy said.

"That's totally inconsistent with what anybody knows about truck brakes," Conboy said. "If there's a brake failure on air brakes, they automatically lock up. There was no evidence of skid marks or an attempt to swerve."

Investigators were waiting for results from a drug and alcohol screen, Conboy said. At this point, he said, officials are "trying to get some records from the driver as far as where he's been the past week."

Based on the damage, Conboy believes Johnson "came in there at full speed."

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