NDOT spokesman: and#8216;We’re confident this ramp will do its job to stop a truck’
UPDATE: 2:40 p.m. Tuesday
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. and#8212; State transportation officials had planned to improve the Mt. Rose Highway runaway truck ramp after a trucker struck it in 2003, but itand#8217;s not clear if anything was done, an official said Monday, three days after a man was killed and a two-story residential home was destroyed in a similar incident.
The Friday death of Frederick Matthews, 41, of San Diego, who was killed when his brakes failed and his truck vaulted off the ramp and into a home Friday, has prompted the Nevada Department of Transportation to investigate the history of the ramp to see if improvements are necessary.
Scott Magruder, spokesman for NDOT, said the department is still trying to collect information to see what, if any, improvements were made after the earlier 2003 incident when Richard Densmore, 40, crashed his truck into one of the three gravel piles and subsequently cartwheeled into a tree before a lurching to halt at the rampand#8217;s crest, according to previous reports. Densmore suffered modest injuries.
After the crash, NDOT was reported to have investigated possible improvements for the ramp, according to a May 21, 2003, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza story, and had planned to deepen each ramp pit and pave the bottom to keep dirt from working its way up into the gravel, which could cause the gravel to stick together and not work well in slowing vehicles.
Magruder said crews will work this week to repair the ramp after Fridayand#8217;s fatal crash.
Initial reports concluded that Matthews lost control of his lumber-hauling truck after its brakes failed, and he catapulted off the runaway truck ramp near the intersection of highways 431 and 28 in Incline Village, flying through the air and landing on the home at Woodridge Circle. Incline resident Gwen Ewasko, 19, was the lone person inside the home, and she escaped without injury. However, her four pet cats died in the subsequent vehicle and structure fire.
Matthewsand#8217; family, who said he was an experienced driver, expressed concerns in a San Diego Channel 10 news interview on Tuesday about the safety of the truck ramp and wondered why it was not able to stop Matthewand#8217;sand#8217; 18-wheeler.
and#8220;I would not like for any other motherand#8217;s son or child to go through that, so whatever the investigation does prove I hope they can do something about it,and#8221; said Elizabeth Namowicz, Matthewsand#8217; mother, in the interview.
Magruder said he does not believe there was anything faulty about the design of the ramp when the incident occurred. He said the ramp had worked successfully since it was constructed in October 1978.
and#8220;… Weand#8217;re confident this ramp will do its job to stop a truck,and#8221; Magruder said.
Mike Brown, chief of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, the main responding party to Fridayand#8217;s scene, said after the ramp was built there were at least two incidents he remembers being called to in the 1980and#8217;s involving a sheetrock truck and a beer truck. Brown said he did not recall dates of the incidents, but in each one the ramp had stopped the trucks.
Despite those success stories, Fridayand#8217;s incident marked the third major truck crash in the past nine years at the ramp. In May 2002, according to previous reports, a truck carrying gypsum wallboard and a hydraulic lift was also sent airborne, with the driver, 23-year-old Manuel Ortega-Portillo, suffering moderate head injuries and having to be airlifted for medical attention. The truck came to rest next to the same house on Woodridge Circle, which was damaged slightly from flying debris.
After the 2002 crash, NDOT performed a six-week renovation that included dumping 110 tons of gravel to make four or five last-ditch mounds at the top of the ramp, according to a July 12, 2002, Bonanza story. The mounds, which grow progressively larger uphill, are meant to stop trucks that the downhill gravel path doesnand#8217;t halt.
On Monday, Magruder said NDOT officials will evaluate the ramp to determine if it needs safety improvements; he said the department is waiting for a complete incident report before making any decisions because it should describe the weight and load of the vehicle, as well as what angle it hit the ramp.
and#8220;Everyone is wondering what caused this to happen and weand#8217;re wondering the same thing too,and#8221; Magruder said.
Magruder estimates the incident report could be completed in about a week. The Nevada Highway Patrol is conducting the investigation.
and#8220;It was a tragic incident and that needs to be looked into,and#8221; Brown said.
When asked what possible improvements NDOT may consider, Magruder said the department will most likely lean toward the most cost-effective strategy, although he said nothing has been ruled out.
Higher-cost solutions could be purchasing more property to either extend the truck ramp or to create another ramp higher up the steep highway. Lower-cost solutions, he said, would be to add additional barriers such as water barrels or to increase the depth of the rampand#8217;s gravel pits.
Reporter Jason Shueh was at the scene Friday morning, from about 8:30 to 10 a.m., and he captured a number of compelling images from the incident, which show the destroyed truck, large flames swallowing the house, the proximity of the fire to other wood-based homes and the surrounding woods, and more.
To view the 144-image online photo gallery, visit http://www.tahoebonanza.com/runawaytruckfire.
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