A tractor-trailer that slammed into a commuter bus yesterday on Interstate 95 in Baltimore and injured seven people had faulty brakes -- a safety violation police in Maryland said Virginia authorities missed when they inspected the vehicle seven hours before the crash.
The truck carrying 44,000 pounds of cat box litter was ordered off the road in Dumfries, Va., 30 miles south of Washington. Virginia State Police said a routine "walk-around" inspection about 1 a.m. at a weigh station found a brake light that didn't work and the truck to be overweight.
But a Virginia inspection officer did not check the brakes and allowed the truck back on the road after the driver told him he had repaired the brake light, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.
The 8: 20 a.m. accident occurred near the Caton Avenue exit inside city limits, 75 miles from where the truck had been inspected in Virginia. It forced police to close all four northbound lanes for 90 minutes at the height of rush hour, causing a several-mile backup.
The Yellow Motor Coach was filled with 30 passengers headed to Baltimore from Columbia when it slowed for congestion and was rear-ended by the truck, which police said was following too closely. Police said 18 people complained of being hurt, but 11 declined medical treatment. Seven people were sent to area hospitals with minor injuries that included back and neck sprains.
Elana Mezile, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said the brake light was not repaired. "We wouldn't even have allowed him to get back on the road," Mezile said. "That truck should not have been on the road."
Police in Maryland inspected the tractor-trailer yesterday afternoon. Mezile said they found that eight of the vehicle's 10 brakes were out of alignment and did not work properly. They also found a steering problem.
The truck's driver, Joseph David Woods, 34, of Rensselaer, N.Y., was charged with 13 traffic violations that carry fines totaling $3,180. They include failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision, driving a vehicle likely to cause an accident, falsifying inspection logs and several safety violations.
Woods was briefly detained by transportation authority police and released late yesterday morning. His truck and the cat litter were impounded. Woods, who could not be reached to comment, was picked up by a colleague to return to K&R; Trucking Co. in Albany, N.Y., police said.
K&R; Trucking Co. officials could not be reached yesterday. A phone number given to police by the driver was incorrect and federal transportation officials had no record of a company under that name in New York.
Maryland officials said they were concerned that the truck was allowed to continue after being ordered off the road in Virginia. "It is not our policy to let such vehicles continue on the roadway," Mezile said, adding that a check of Woods' driving record reveals no citations or other problems.
Caldwell said the driver was given an "out of service" violation as a result of the Virginia inspection, meaning he was ordered to fix the brake light before he could continue.
After telling the inspector it had been fixed, the truck driver pulled back on the road about 6: 55 a.m., Caldwell said. The Virginia spokeswoman said the enforcer is not required to check whether the driver complied with the order.
"Once a truck is placed out of service, it becomes the trucker's responsibility to get that fixed," Caldwell said. "The enforcer saw him working on the truck, the driver told him it was fixed and he left."
Caldwell said more than 30,000 trucks are inspected at Virginia weigh stations each year, and "it is unrealistic to assume that every overweight truck will have its brakes checked."
Pub Date: 6/24/98