The Price of Safety: A CBS 7 Special Report
Victor Vasquez made his living working for a local electrical contractor.
Just four days before the Christmas holiday, everything changed. The 23-year-old Monahans man and Jessie Urias passed away in a big rig crash: ripping him away from friends and family. It happened on FM 866 south of Interstate 20.
The crash was so violent, it flung the engine away from the cab of the tractor trailer
“What happened, it was just sad,” said DPS Trooper Elena Viramontes. Viramontes said it was one of the worst crashes she's seen in her time with the department
The crash remains under investigation: DPS officials believe the crash was caused by a failure to control speed.
The Vasquez family filed a $120 million lawsuit against Rogelio Perez, Luis Lopez and the Schlumberger-affiliate for which they work. The victim's attorneys say both drivers were using their phones at the time of the crash.
The two were driving separate trucks when Lopez hit Perez from behind. The force from the first crash sent Perez’s big rig directly into oncoming traffic, hitting Vasquez and Urias head on; catching their truck on fire and burning them to death.
We went to their home to speak to one of the driver's responsible, but their family declined to comment.
Still grieving the loss of their son, Victor’s family declined to speak on camera.
It makes us wonder, who is keeping an eye on big rigs on the road.
After two years patrolling big rigs, Trooper Justin Baker knows the ins and outs of truck law, including the rules on distracted driving.
But catching drivers breaking the law is an almost impossible task.
“I think that a lot of them get away with it,” said Trooper Baker, “they have a height advantage on us. So we have to get right up on them for us to be able to see what they are doing.”
The handful of troopers in the area qualified to even pull over big rigs is small, just nine in the Midland-Odessa area. More than one million 18-wheelers pass our roads each year.
“It’s a six month course on top of all of the other training,” Baker said.
To get an idea of just how many truckers are focused on phones, food or other distractions, CBS 7's Christopher Saul sat on the side of interstate 20 west one morning for half an hour.
Of the 76 trucks that passed him that morning, eight drivers that morning were on their phones, eating food or otherwise not focusing. We caught many on camera texting and driving.
It led us to wonder, if DPS cannot keep all of these drivers off of their phones, is there someone else who can?
“Safety has to be more than something that you put on a brochure, otherwise it wont work,” says Dawn Keller.
She came to the oilfield two years ago after a career in disaster response with one goal – to reduce accidents and deaths for her employees and everyone else on the roads.
She says training and protocol, not technology, are the keys to safer roadways in our areas.
“If you train the right people to make the right decisions, you will have a safer work area,” said Keller.
At Slingshot Services, Dawn implements a thorough check of every truck, before it leaves the yard.
Everything from the engine, to the horn, to the lights, are checked before they hit the road every single day.
The process only takes about 15 minutes per vehicle.
“Is that 15 minutes worth someone’s life? We’d like to think so,” Keller said.
Since her first day on the job, accidents and near misses have plummeted.
But, she says, distracted driving cannot be eliminated.
“No one is going to have one hundred percent compliance,” Keller said, “But it’s important to build a culture around promoting safety and compliance.”
It's something the victim's family hopes their lawsuit accomplishes -- by holding one company responsible.
We requested the driving records of all of the drivers involved in the crash, but were denied that information. We plan on fighting to get it.
Within the last two days, we've learned that a public information request to DPS by the victim's attorney was denied. DPS indicates it will now be handing over its findings to a grand jury.