The truck that killed four members of a college women’s softball team in Oklahoma last year was driven by a Texas man with a history of using synthetic marijuana, U.S. safety investigators found.
Russell Staley needed help for his dependency on synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2, his wife told his doctor 13 months before the crash on Sept. 26, 2014, according to records released by the National Transportation Safety Board. Notes from Staley’s licensed professional counselor in August 2013 also showed he “had been using designer drugs at work” and needed help with stress, anger, low self-esteem, guilt and depression.
The finding comes ahead of a formal report expected later on the probable cause of the crash and safety recommendations to avoid such tragedies. Truck safety has drawn renewed attention since last year, when a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. driver hit a van carrying comedian Tracy Morgan on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to police. Regulators and the industry are working to find solutions to reduce the death toll of almost 4,000 every year. Authorities are also grappling with the rising use of synthetic drugs.
The board will hold a hearing today in Washington to discuss its findings.
After the crash, police found a silver pipe with burnt residue of 5-fluoro-AMB, a synthetic cannabinoid, but later drug testing could not confirm or rule out its presence in Staley’s blood, the report shows. He was later charged with four counts of manslaughter.
Staley was driving north when his Quickway Transportation Inc. truck veered off Interstate 35 near Davis, crossed a grassy median and struck a southbound bus carrying a team from North Central Texas College.
The accident killed four players: Jaiden Pelton, 19, of Telephone, Texas; Brooke Deckard, 20, of Blue Ridge, Texas; Meagan Richardson, 19, of Wylie, Texas; and Katelynn Woodlee, 18, of Dodd City, Texas.
Staley was 47 miles north of the Oklahoma-Texas line at 9:05 p.m. that night when the road curved slightly to the right, and his rig did not. Instead, it rumbled across a grassy median at 72 miles per hour, traveled 1,100 feet and sideswiped a bus carrying 15 players and their coach. The team was returning home from a Friday night game at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma.
The NTSB released 2,000 pages of documents late on Nov. 16, including a transcript of a whistleblower call to the board from a supervisor who worked for Staley’s previous employer. Staley had been missing work, showing up late and not performing well, the supervisor told a board investigator.
Staley told the supervisor he was smoking synthetic marijuana, which he referred to as spice. Staley told him that he had passed out in a park and didn’t know how long he had been there. When the supervisor told his boss about Staley’s problem, “it fell on deaf ears,” and the company neither took him off the road nor got him assistance, according to the report.
“I told him, I said this guy’s going to kill somebody someday, you watch,” the supervisor said he told his boss. “And I’ll be damned, it happened.”
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