Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wreck kills three teens

You could see how it happened. That was the easy part – the four-way highway intersection, the Stop sign ignored or dared.
HUGO, Okla. – Three Rattan High School students were killed Tuesday afternoon when the pickup in which they were riding was in collision with a loaded gravel truck, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers said Wednesday morning.

The students killed were identified as Timothy G. Dawson, 17; Kimberly J. Smith, 16; and Melissa A. Allen, 16. All were from Rattan, said Highway Patrol officer Gaylon Jeffords. Dawson was a senior at Rattan High School, while Smith and Allen were juniors.

Jeffords said the accident occurred when a 1998 Ford Ranger pickup, driven by Dawson, heading west on East 1960 Road, apparently ran a stop sign at the intersection with Oklahoma Highway 147. The Ranger was in collision with a northbound Chambers Co. Gravel Co. truck, driven by Billy F. Boyd, 37, of Hugo.

Boyd, who was injured in the accident, was treated and released from Choctaw Memorial Hospital.

Funeral services for Dawson, Smith and Allen are pending with Loman Funeral Home in Hugo.

And there you have it. A boy driving a pickup with two friends from school, a warm afternoon, and … What? He didn’t see the stop sign? He didn’t know the stop sign was there? He wasn’t paying attention?

Here’s what the accident location looked like: A normal paved intersection, stop sign east and west. Trees a distance from the highway, but not presenting visibility limitations.

Two days after the wreck, the intersection showed skid marks in the northbound lane, slightly angled to the west, indicating the driver of the gravel truck had a split second on the brakes before impact, and the same split second to try to turn the fully loaded truck. Both actions were purely reaction, of course. The truck probably was going 55 mph or more, given the terrain at the site. There was no way the truck would miss the Ranger pickup, no matter what the driver tried to do.

The area northwest of the intersection was sand, with short pine trees beyond. Thursday after the wreck, the sand had a plowed appearance, probably from remains of the Ranger pushed across the sand and toward the trees. The trees were blackened from a fire. Trooper Jeffords had not mentioned a fire, but a fire was logical, given the mass of the gravel truck smashing into and through the small pickup, crushing the pickup, rending it into small pieces, splitting the gas tank and the fuel spilling.

You have to figure the pickup was not dawdling, but traveling at least the speed limit – 60 mph. My two years’ experience with Oklahoma drivers was this: My pickup, the one with Texas plates, was the only one doing the speed limit; every Oklahoma-plated car or truck either rode my bumper or passed me at the first opportunity. You know the gravel truck didn’t dawdle. Gravel trucks went as fast, and were as dangerous, as log trucks. Most drivers of gravel trucks paid little attention to speed limits. Fifteen mph over was normal.

Not that it would have mattered how much over the speed limit the gravel truck was going when it hit the Ranger. The gross weight of the gravel truck was what, 50,000 pounds, 60,000 pounds? Or more?

The wreck was a matter of timing. For the broadside impact, both the pickup and the gravel truck had to be traveling at a specific speed, relative to each other.

You can get into the luck or fate aspect of the incident, but that does no good. It happened. The why …

Maybe the driver didn’t see the stop sign? I drove east on 1960 Road, the same road on which Dawson drove west. The terrain was level. No trees obstructed visibility of traffic on Highway 147. At more than one-third mile the stop sign was visible right of the road.

It happened. That’s all. Nothing else is explanation.

I headed back south on Highway 147. Thoughts of the gravel truck and the pickup had been my entire focus for thirty minutes or so -- images of the pickup entering the intersection, the gravel truck almost at the same place on the road, and everybody involved suddenly … Realizes what is about to happen? I don’t know. Sometimes the mind is not that quick.

A gravel truck turned in front of me, 50 yards away, a right turn into a quarry, plenty of room.

I flinched.
The wreck happened in 1999. I did not write this then because the three high school students were too newly dead. Relatives and friends tend to anger when you write a story concerning people who die young and your focus is not what great kids they were.

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