Almost a month after the March 26 fatal accident on I-35, no charges have been filed and an official Department of Public Safety crash report left the narrative description blank as being under review by the District Crash Team.
As of presstime on April 21, no charges have been filed in connection with the accident
The eight page report from the DPS does include a diagram of the vehicles involved in the accident in which an 18-wheeler carrying a cherry picker and traveling northbound struck the girder of the I-35 overpass at FM 2484.
The truck and its load, operated by Lares Trucking and driven by Valentin Martinez, were measured at 14’7” by Department of Public Safety officers after the accident. It was carrying construction equipment in the flatbed of the trailer. The maximum height for a truck to travel without an overheight permit is 14 feet tall. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles stated that the truck did not have an overheight permit.
The truck passed through the underpass after striking the first girder with its load and causing it to shift and then tumble down onto the highway.
A driver on the southbound side was killed when the 57.5 ton girder fell on his pickup truck. He was identified as Clark Davis, a 32-year-old Arlington man.
“The beams are set into slots on the support columns,” stated Jodi Wheatley, TxDOT Public Information officer for the I-35 expansion project through the Waco district. “They are not fastened in until the bridge deck plates are installed on top of the beams (that would have been the next step in construction). Each beam weighs 57.5 tons and they stay in place by their weight.
Three others suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to Baylor-Scott & White Hospital in Temple via helicopter or ambulance: Roberto Zambra, the driver of the northbound black Kenworth 18-wheeler; Chuong D. Nguyen, driver of a pickup truck heading north and Aldine C. Riley, the driver of the southbound Freightliner.
“The bridge was measured early last Thursday (March 19) after the new beams were set,” Wheatley told Salado Village Voice. “The height was measured then as 14’ 0.5”. it was signed at that time or very shortly thereafter as 13’ 6” for an added measure of safety.”
Wheatley later acknowledged to the Salado Village Voice that the bridge height was measured by James Construction. “The contractor is required by TxDOT to measure this height and sign accordingly,” Wheatley stated, adding “TxDOT verified that the bridge clearance signs were in place.”
Wheatley added that TXDOT sends the information to the TxDMV. “We send notice to TxDMV, which is the agency that issues oversize permits for all trucks too high, too wide or too heavy,” Wheatley said. “Those permits list the route the truck is to take, to make sure the truck fits all clearances. The trucking company is supposed to apply for those permits in advance of the travel of an oversized load.”
According to the TxDMV website, permittees are “responsible for obtaining current restrictions.” The TxDMV lists those restrictions broken down into the 25 different districts. The restrictions for the FM 2484 were posted to the TxDMV on March 26, 2015, the day of the accident.
TxDOT officials said that there were three warning signs of the low bridge at FM 2484, including an electronic sign. On northbound I-35 through Salado, both overpasses at Thomas Arnold Rd. and FM 2484 are now marked as 14’0”. An electronic sign before the northbound exit for FM 2268 south of Salado warns of the 14’0” minimum clearance through FM 2484 and asks overheight trucks to exit the highway at FM 2268 remaining on the access road through the FM 2484 overpass.
A bright orange diamond warning sign sits far off the highway and warns of the 14’0” clearance before the NB access road can enter the interstate just north of FM 2268.
A second electronic sign warns overheight loads to exit at FM 2484 before the overpass. A diamond warning sign warns of the 14’0” height at FM 2484 just after crossing over Salado’s Main Street.
On the southbound lanes, an orange diamond sign warns of the 14’3” height of the FM 2484 overpass a quarter mile before the exit.
The warning sign for the Thomas Arnold overpass, which is listed at 14’0” on the southbound side is placed right at the southbound exit to Thomas Arnold.
TxDOT officials say that when the expansion is completed through Salado that the overpasses will meet the regulation height of 16 feet in height.