A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found 900 large trucks have been pulled off of interstates in middle Tennessee in a two year time period for serious mechanical problems that should have prevented them from being on the road in the first place.
The Channel 4 I-Team examined truck inspections by the Tennessee Highway Patrol between Oct. 1, 2010, and Oct. 1, 2012, in Davidson, Cheatham, Dickson, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.
Our review found the THP had pulled over the trucks and found them to have such serious mechanical problems that they were immediately pulled off the road and weren't allowed to continue on until the problems were fixed.
The inspection reports showed trucks cited for dangerous flaws like bad brakes and unsecured cargo.
One Benton County family said the truck that struck and killed their loved one should have never been on the road because of the mechanical problems that existed before the crash.
Alex Sharum, 21, was killed when a semi smashed into her Jeep Wrangler March 28 in Camden, TN.
A review of the accident reports and the THP investigation found the truck had several mechanical problems before the crash, including mismatched brake chambers. If discovered ahead of time, that kind of flaw would have caused the THP to pull the truck off the road.
The driver was cited for the mechanical problem but not for causing the crash.
Even if the driver didn't cause the accident, Sharum's family wonders what would have happened if the truck had been in good working order and the brakes had been in proper shape.
"Should have never been on the road according to the violations," said Angie Wade, Sharum's aunt.
Drivers of large trucks are responsible for daily inspections of their vehicles, and the company that owns them must inspect them once a year.
The Channel 4 I-Team wanted to ask O'Neal, Melton and Sons, Inc., the company that owned the truck in Sharum's accident, how often they had inspected the truck and if their driver had inspected it the day of the accident, but their attorney told us no comment and told us not to go on their property.
Sharum's family is suing the O'Neal, Melton and Sons, Inc., and their attorney said they could not comment because of the pending litigation, but did confirm they fired the driver after the crash.
Sharum's family said the truck in Sharum's case was not unique in having mechanical problems.
"There's lots of them out there, that we didn't know about, that are unsafe," said Wade.
"Some companies choose to ignore safety rules. That's why we're here," said THP Lt. Brad Wilbanks.
Wilbanks said one tool the THP is using to find trucks in bad condition is a fleer camera that uses thermal imaging technology.
The camera seeks out heat to determine if trucks have problems. On the screen, part of the truck glows to reveal heat sources.
Wilbanks said if a frame is glowing too hot, it could be out of adjustment. If there's no glow on the brakes, it means they aren't working, he said. And if trucks are glowing strongly, it means they're underinflated.
On the day the Channel 4 I-Team went with Wilbanks to inspect trucks, they noticed a dump truck that's brakes were glowing.
During the inspection of that truck, the THP found leaks in two brake systems and tires that were too bald.
"Is this a dangerous truck?" asked I-Team Chief Investigative Reporter Jeremy Finley.
"Absolutely," Wilbanks said.
The truck was deemed by the THP to be in too bad of shape to go back on the interstate.
The driver of the truck didn't want his face shown on camera, but told the Channel 4 I-Team he did inspect the truck and had no idea the brakes were in bad shape because they weren't locking up.
Sharum's family said they can't help but wonder how many other trucks with mechanical problems are out there.
"Every time we pass a truck on the road, we think, is it safe?" Wade said.
Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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