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Truck in fatal Wake Forest crash was pulling a heavy trailer without working brakes


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The News & Observer  /  May 30, 2016

Newly released safety inspection records for a truck involved in a fatal Wake Forest crash reveal multiple violations including problems with brakes, which may have contributed to the death of a school teacher whose minivan was crushed.

Michelle S. Barlow of Wake Forest was killed on March 22 when her minivan, stopped in traffic on U.S. 1, was rammed from behind. Donald W. Caulder Jr. of Laurinburg, the dump truck driver, is awaiting trial on charges of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and failure to reduce speed.

The dump truck was carrying a load of logs and pulling a trailer that carried a 9,800-pound Bobcat loader. State Highway Patrol records show that troopers who inspected the truck and trailer after the crash found that:

▪  The trailer’s electric brakes did not function because they were not wired to the truck.

▪  The chain securing the Bobcat to the trailer was not as strong as required by law. The chain broke, and the Bobcat shifted forward into the bed of the dump truck.

▪  A battery-powered emergency breakaway system – required to stop the trailer automatically by applying the brakes, if it becomes detached from the truck – did not work because the battery was missing.

▪  The logs in the dump truck were not secured.

▪  The truck had a damaged tire with the belt exposed, and it had no fire extinguisher.

The truck’s owner, Timothy L. Robbins of Raleigh, was fined $930 for the violations. He said the crash was an accident and that he is disputing the violations [good luck with that].

Robbins and a landscaping business he owned until recently, Arbormax Tree Service, have a contentious history with the Highway Patrol, which is responsible for enforcing federal truck regulations.

Highway Patrol officials declined to discuss the March 22 violations in detail, citing the criminal case against Caulder. But a national truck safety advocate said the violations were egregious and the lack of brakes for the trailer may have increased the force with which Robbins’ truck hit Barlow’s SUV.

“This is extremely irresponsible behavior by the company,” Will Schaefer, director of vehicle programs for the Washington-based Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an association of truck safety regulator agencies, said after reading the Highway Patrol files.

“If the trailer had brakes, the vehicle would have slowed down to a slower speed at impact. What the outcome would have been, I don’t know. But this is simple physics.”

The impact left the dump truck partly on top of the crushed minivan. Highway Patrol documents say Caulder slowed from a speed of 60 miles per hour to 38 mph before his truck destroyed the minivan.

Robbins contended that Caulder never tried to stop. He said the trailer brakes had been working but were damaged in the crash.

“There were brakes on the trailer,” Robbins said. “We’re disputing that with the Highway Patrol. There was a wire broken during the wreck. The driver never hit the brakes. There were no skid marks.”

Robbins denied that the Bobcat was not properly secured, and he argued that the violations had nothing to do with the crash.

“None of it contributed to that poor lady’s death. This was a 100 percent accident,” Robbins said. “It happened because he never hit the brakes.”

The investigating trooper, S.L. Moy, wrote on the crash report that the dump truck left an 84-foot skid mark. But in an interview he said that may have been a stain from spilled fuel or something else, because there was no skid mark visible the next day after the crash was cleaned up.

Even though the truck slowed before the crash, Moy said he couldn’t recall whether Caulder actually applied the brakes. But he asserted that the trailer brakes could never have been hooked up to the truck’s brake wiring system, because their connecting plugs were not compatible.

“If Caulder did hit the brakes, that 9,800-pound equipment (on the trailer) was extra weight that the truck’s brakes were trying to stop – when you should have brakes on the trailer to stop that weight,” Moy said.

Tim Robbins said he has given up ownership of Arbormax to his wife as part of their pending divorce. He and Arbormax together have paid more than $20,000 in fines and penalties for violations against their four trucks since 2011.

“We have never had a wreck or hurt anyone,” Robbins wrote in a letter May 26, 2015, to Highway Patrol officials. He was contesting recent fines, and he accused troopers of “a relentless campaign of harassment and profiling.”

His wife, Jennifer Robbins, now head of Arbormax, complained in a Jan. 9 letter that her company was being penalized wrongly for violations linked to trucks the company had recently sold to Tim Robbins.

“I am disgusted with your constant bullying and harassment,” Jennifer Robbins wrote. She threatened to sue the Highway Patrol. That prompted a cautionary Jan. 12 internal memo in which a Highway Patrol sergeant admonished troopers to “exercise the utmost patience” in their dealings with the Robbinses.

The $20,000 in penalties, documented in Highway Patrol records, are for violations not considered to involve highway safety. They include trucks without licenses or decals certifying that they have paid their fuel taxes, and trucks carrying loads heavier than allowed by their permits.

Robbins and Arbormax have a parallel history of penalties related to separate safety inspections, but Highway Patrol officials refused to provide details. They said they were allowed to reveal the results of safety inspections conducted in connection with crashes, but other safety violations are secret under state law.

“Unless it’s post-crash, the statute does not allow that to be a public record,” said Lt. James C. Rigsbee of the Highway Patrol’s Motor Carrier Enforcement Section. He cited a broadly worded 1985 state law, G.S. 20-393, that makes it unlawful for a state official to “divulge any fact or information which may come to his knowledge during the course of any examination or inspection” involving motor carrier safety regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration posts truck safety violation information on its website – but only for interstate companies that cross state lines and are required to have federal ID numbers. Rigsbee said Robbins and Arbormax do business only in North Carolina.

Rigsbee released one other safety inspection report linked to a minor crash – also involving Caulder and the neon-green dump truck that killed Barlow in Wake Forest.

On Jan. 7, Caulder was making a sharp left turn on N.C. 55 in Fuquay-Varina when logs he was hauling shifted in the dump truck bed, and the truck overturned. Tim Robbins, the truck owner, was cited for failing to secure the logs.

WRAL-TV reported after the March 22 crash that an unnamed Raleigh man had called 911 operators earlier that day, unsuccessfully urging them to stop the same green dump truck. Swerving as it hauled the Bobcat and trailer on Interstate 40, the truck ran several drivers off the road, the caller said.

Schaefer, the Washington-based truck safety advocate, said most of the March 22 safety violations did not affect the crash, and it is not clear how much difference there would have been if the trailer had working brakes for every wheel, as required by law. But the long list of violations are egregious, he said.

“The driver never connected the trailer (brakes) to the (dump truck), which is just utter negligence in my opinion,” Schaefer said. “They clearly did not maintain the brake system on this trailer.”


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This is the state of light and medium truck operation by an ocean of amateur truck operators in the US, who only know that a truck is larger than a car. They have no grasp or care for safety (the added cost would destroy their business models).

Think of the lawn maintenance crowd, for example, where kids pull overloaded low-quality single and dual axle "Billy Bob Bilt" trailers behind pickup trucks........accidents waiting to happen. Those trailers are composed of the lowest quality components imaginable.

This event..........is classic Carolina.

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That is classic all over. We not only have lawn companies here like that but also scrap metal guys go buy a half ton pick up add 4x8 plywood sides and load it til the rear bumper drags.  Here DOT never even gives them a side ways look...Saying their illegals and won't pay the fines any how.    Paul

Edited by 41chevy


 “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy shit, what a ride!’


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Shocker here is I'm expecting to see  a beat 80's Ford or Binder and its a relatively new F'liner.  Also, second dumb ass accident by same driver in less than a year.  Unreal he was still on payroll.

To second Paul, the junkies around here are unreal-same deal-plwood sideboards and rear bumper not far off ground!

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This is the state of light and medium truck operation by an ocean of amateur truck operators in the US, who only know that a truck is larger than a car. They have no grasp or care for safety (the added cost would destroy their business models).

Think of the lawn maintenance crowd, for example, where kids pull overloaded low-quality single and dual axle "Billy Bob Bilt" trailers behind pickup trucks........accidents waiting to happen. Those trailers are composed of the lowest quality components imaginable.

This event..........is classic Carolina.

My company will not broker any freight to a car hauler with electric brakes on the trailer. The " Billy-Bob" built trailers for car hauling are notoriously top-heavy, overloaded for the tow vehicle, usually poorly maintained, and less than professionally operated.

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I feel for that poor woman.  I hope her family brings a civil suit, sues the crap out of the owner and the driver. 

Nice boss to work for... notice how he threw the driver under the bus..." nothing wrong with my truck, there were no skid marks, the driver never tried to stop!" Nice guy.

But then again, when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

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Condolences to the family.

It would not have made a difference in this case since the brake controller was never connected to the trailer, but it is time to outlaw the use of electric/magnetic brakes in new equipment and to start equipping every trailer with electric over hydraulic brakes. Plain and simple electric/magnetic brakes are unreliable and the electric over hydraulic systems, particularly the disc brake systems, provide much more reliable braking without fading caused by the magnets overheating.

Money, sex, and fire; everybody thinks everyone else is getting more than they are!

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Several weeks ago here in Connecticut we had a EMPTY tri-axle T- bone a lady and killed her the truck only left one skid mark at the seen and these guys wonder why the D.M.V harass them we had the Avon Conn. accident several years back witch killed  four people  and injured a lot.new driver to the truck got lost and blew the trans and couldn't stop the truck then the owner calls his insurance to put it back on the policy father & son are doing time the state auction every thing off and David Wilcox 77 only ended with 6 years for letting unsafe & uninsured truck to leave his yard.


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