The truck driver involved in the nine-vehicle wreck on Interstate 75 was cited for careless driving in Florida on Wednesday — one day before officials say he plowed into several vehicles in a crash that killed six people in Chattanooga.
Benjamin Scott Brewer, 39, sideswiped a truck while attempting to pass on June 24 in Wildwood, Fla., according to a Florida Highway Patrol crash report. Brewer’s truck struck the left bumper of the other truck, and both vehicles pulled to the shoulder of the two-lane road around 9:30 a.m.
Neither driver was hurt, according to the report, and both were wearing seatbelts. The road was not wet, Brewer was not distracted and his vision was not obscured, according to the report. He was issued a citation for careless driving and ordered to pay $166.
The same woman who was riding with Brewer when he crashed in Chattanooga was a passenger in the truck during the Florida wreck, according to the report. Chattanooga police have identified the woman as Brewer’s fiancee. She does not have a commercial driver’s license, Lt. Adrian Gibb said Monday.
After the accident on Wednesday, Brewer stopped to repair his truck in Ocala, Fla., before driving up to Chattanooga, Gibb said. Brewer, who drives for London, Ky., trucking company Cool Runnings Express Inc., had driven at least 400 miles before wrecking in Chattanooga, Gibb said.
He declined to say how many hours Brewer had been on the clock, citing the ongoing investigation. Both local agencies and a team of 11 people from the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, which killed two children and four adults.
It’s too early to say what caused Brewer to fail to stop, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Monday. He said the NTSB team is still collecting evidence.
“At this point, they’re examining the vehicles involved, examining the area where the accident took place, looking at issues regarding work zone areas, driver performance, the crash-worthiness of the vehicle,” he said.
Part of that investigation includes collecting the crash data recorders from each vehicle, Gibb said. The recorders, which act much like a plane’s black box, can tell investigators details about each vehicle in the 30 seconds to a minute before the impact.
Crash recorders are installed only in newer cars, and the recorders in at least two of the vehicles from Thursday’s crash were too damaged to be useful, Gibb said. But intact recorders should be able to tell investigators crucial details, such as how fast each vehicle was going and whether the brakes were applied, Gibb said.
Police have not charged Brewer with any crimes and he has returned to Kentucky, Gibb said. Brewer will not be allowed to drive a truck until the investigation into the crash is closed.
And while the police investigation is focused on Brewer, federal records show that the company Brewer works for, Cool Runnings Express, has had problems with safety in the past.
On three occasions since 2013, roadside safety inspectors immediately shut down Cool Runnings Express’ trucks because of safety issues with the trucks’ brakes, according to federal records.
That means the trucks weren’t allowed back on the road until the problems were fixed, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Cool Runnings Express’ trucks were stopped for brake problems twice in August 2013 and once in June 2014, according to motor carrier safety administration records.
“These are random inspections that are done by the roadside usually at a truck stop or weigh station,” said Duane DeBruyne, spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “They are totally unannounced. If there is anything that is an imminent hazard, the inspector can place that vehicle out of service. Which means it is not moving until that defect is repaired.”
Cool Runnings Express’ trucks were also pulled from the road after failing two other random inspections — once for making false reports about the driver’s duty log in May 2014, and once when the driver had gone beyond the 14-hour duty limit in June 2014.
The truck involved in that 14-hour citation is the same vehicle that Brewer was driving when he wrecked in this week, state and federal records show. It’s unclear, however, whether Brewer was the driver who violated the 14-hour rule or whether another person was driving the truck at that time.
Cool Runnings Express owner Billy Sizemore declined to comment on the wreck on Monday. The company operates six trucks and employs nine drivers, according to the safety administration. Drivers haul meat, refrigerated food and fresh produce.
During the last 24 months, Cool Runnings Express failed three of eight vehicle inspections — 37 percent — and failed two of 14 driver inspections, or 14 percent, safety administration records show.
The national average for inspection failure rates among trucking companies is about 21 percent for vehicle inspections and 6 percent for driver inspections, according to the safety administration.
Chattanooga trucking company Covenant Transport failed 13 percent of its vehicle inspections during the last 24 months, according to the safety administration. Covenant, which has 1,592 trucks and 2,484 drivers, failed just .9 percent of its driver inspections in the same time period.