SEMI LOSES WHEELS, KILLING SHELBYVILLE COP ON I-74
By Meagan Ingerson, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 12, 2007
Shelbyville Police Sgt. Gary Henderson was at least the sixth person to be killed on the nation’s highways this year by wheels broken loose from semi trucks.
Investigators haven’t determined what caused a double wheel to separate from the rear of a passing semi Wednesday night, but the hurtling debris struck Henderson with enough force to kill him instantly as he worked on the shoulder of I-74. He had been helping another officer on a traffic stop.
In March, a loose wheel struck a van full of college students heading to Florida for spring break, killing two. In May, a wheel hit and killed a driver in Seattle. A New Jersey transportation worker died in June as he mowed grass beside a highway.
And in July, a woman driving home from work in Austin died when a wheel hit her car.
“Is it something that doesn’t happen? No, we’ve seen it before,” 1st Sgt. David Bursten of the Indiana State Police said. “What’s unusual were the circumstances. Everyone had to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to result in a death.”
Wednesday night, the wheels broke free from the rear passenger side of a truck driven by Michal Prerovsky, of Berwyn, Ill. Prerovsky was passing the officers in the left lane.
Two other Shelbyville officers and a Shelby County Sheriff’s Department deputy were also at the scene investigating a suspected stolen car. No one else was injured in the accident.
“Luckily, if you can say that, everyone else just walked back to their vehicles,” Shelbyville Police Chief Bill Elliott said.
Prerovsky didn’t know he’d lost the wheels and kept driving until officers pulled him over, according to a police report.
“There were no skid marks,” Elliott said. “He didn’t even realize the wheels had dislodged.”
Prerovsky was cooperating with investigators, who said they expected to let him continue on his way after the day’s questioning. According to a report from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, his truck was carrying packing peanuts to Kentucky.
A full accident report would not be available for a few days, said Lt. David Fishers, spokesman for the sheriff’s department. He described the incident as “pretty complicated.”
“What we did notice is there was no grease on that hub,” Elliott said of the detached double wheel.
Kevin Roberts, director of safety and membership at the Indiana Motor Truck Association, said that an ungreased hub could cause a tractor trailer wheel to detach.
“If there’s no grease there, then the wheel locks up, and that’s what causes a failure there,” he said, adding that he was unfamiliar with the specifics of the Shelbyville accident.
Prerovsky told police the trailer was an old piece of equipment, though he did not know the year and model, according to police reports. Elliott said the truck had last been inspected in August.
Mechanical failure contributes to about 10 percent of serious accidents involving tractor trailers, according to a 2006 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Tire or wheel failure is one of the top three problems associated with such mechanical failures, the report stated, along with braking problems and a shift of cargo.
Wheel separation may also occur due to assembly errors, corrosion or poor installation and maintenance, according to a 1995 report from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation in Canada.
“Anything man-made is subject to failure,” said Bursten, the state trooper. “Do we know if this was poor maintenance? Not at this time.”
Prerovsky told police he worked for Chicago-based trucking company Zone Express, Elliott said.
The phone number listed for the firm by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, however, was disconnected, with no other listings for the company in the Chicago area.
Bursten could not immediately say how smany times the State Police’s 90 motor carrier inspectors have pulled over trucks with wheel problems.
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