“That’s All We Know”

A semi coming down from the mountains on I-70 into Denver crashed into stopped cars and killed many people yesterday. Police say they don’t know what happened.

“We do know that I-70 eastbound traffic was at a standstill or close to a standstill because of a crash way out ahead of it,” he said at a news conference. “The semi was eastbound and ended up colliding with the … cars that were stopped because of the accident ahead. That’s all we know or we are releasing at this point.”

I-70 crash: Multiple people dead in a fiery wreck near Denver – CNN

Unfortunate that the police don’t have access to YouTube. Otherwise they would have known that the truck was driving at a high rate of speed on the shoulder.

Somebody did something.

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25 Responses to “That’s All We Know”

  1. Crashex says:

    The description, and video, are a common set of facts for a truck that has “lost its brakes”. Usually related to a long steep downgrade over which the operator of a fully loaded truck fails to use a sufficiently low gear to have engine braking dissipate the energy for the decent. The brakes overheat, lose effectiveness, and the truck then picks up speed on the downhill grade. The operator may hardly notice it until he has to brake hard for something near the bottom of the hill and the brakes just won’t do much. If the driver tries to shift gears, he is unlikely to get it back into a gear and will freewheel with no engine braking either–very bad. In this one the operator clearly steered to the shoulder to avoid the stopped/slow traffic, but didn’t bail out by running the truck up the embankment before he came upon some stopped traffic on the ramp that he couldn’t avoid.

    I’m sure the police have many witnesses explaining how the truck came barreling down the shoulder, without referencing the video. Though the video can be analyzed for travel speed. Is that smoke I see behind the wheels as it passes?

    The controlled path along the shoulder does indicate the driver was not incapacitated; heart attack, passed out, etc.

    The engine control module in the semi-tractor would normally have lots of good data about the truck’s operation for a minute or so before the crash, but the fire could well have destroyed any chance of recovering the data. Always worth the try.

    The Youtube videos do demonstrate that too many people are fussing with their electronics when they a supposed to be driving. That inattention does not seem to play a role on this one, but those distractions are adding up to many more aw-shits then prior to cell phones being so ubiquitous.

    This year I celebrate my 25th year of doing the forensic engineering for motor vehicle crashes. Certainly, need more data to have a real analysis, but first impression is truck brake failure.

    • Jason Calley says:

      Good analysis based on available data. Makes sense.

    • rah says:

      The data leading up to the crash would have already been transmitted via qualcom if the truck is outfitted with that system or a similar one as most are in decent sized fleets these days. Now, the new driver/dash cam system in some of the trucks in the company I work for instantly start transmitting the loop starting 10 seconds before the initial event which surpasses normal operating parameters occurs. So they may even have video right up to the crash.

      I was “barreling down” I-70 Wednesday and Thursday. Delivered a heavy (grossing over 78,000 lb.) Nestle’s load of product to the Walmart DC in Pottsville, PA Thursday at 17:30 then drove to within 23 miles of Camp Hill, PA and took my 10 hour break. I had 13 minutes left on my 14 hour clock when I pulled into the rest area to take my break. Thursday at 14:30 I was in the dock being loaded from nose to tail and bottom to top with plastic pallets to return to the Nestle’s plant in Anderson, IN. Dropped the loaded trailer at Nestle’s at 02:00 this (Friday) morning.

      I don’t have the camera systems in the 2015 Freightliner I drive but the 2019 Volvos and Freightliners the company has in service do and I teamed in a 2019 Volvo down to Laredo, TX then over to Berea, KY and back to Anderson last week. Not only do those trucks have the cameras they also have lane departure and proximity warnings forward and on the right (blind spot) of the tractor. I HATE those warnings. Want nothing to do with them. I have enough hassles to deal with without having the damned truck bitching at me about stuff I already know. I thus informed my boss that I intend to stay in the 2015 Freightliner I had been driving since it was new until I retire if at all possible. The truck I am driving is a much better pulling truck than that 2019 Volvo I drove last week. Since it will take a couple years for them to get the camera systems in all of the trucks, and mine is on the verge of being 5 years old (2020 models will start hitting the road in July this year), there is a very good chance I may retire from full time driving before I have to deal with having cameras and proximity warnings in the truck. Because I have so often teamed in others trucks, my truck only has 377,776 miles on it. How do I know the exact mileage at this time? Every time I fuel I have to enter the mileage into the system among several other things, like truck number, trailer number, license number, etc. at the pump and I fueled just before I parked it this morning. Now that kind of mileage on a big truck puts it right in it’s prime. The time when all the bugs have been worked out but the truck is not so old that things are breaking all the time.

      The truck I’m driving has been very reliable and does a great job pulling those heavy loads up hill. The “jake” engine brake has 4 levels and does a great job minimizing the amount of braking required when going down hill. Still with a heavy load on a 5% or greater grade I will have to “punch brake”. When it comes to situations where there is a sustained period when the brakes will be used “Punch braking” is how you do it. Fairly hard on the brakes for 5 seconds then let off allowing periods for them to cool between applications is how it’s done. Shorter and harder is much better than longer and lighter. Works for any vehicle as long as you control your speed and RPMs properly. In nearly 15 years of driving OTR I have NEVER had a problem with overheated brakes going down a hill and I have driven in every one of the lower 48. The only time I have even smelled my own brakes is when I have had to panic stop in some emergency or once when I had a brake canister malfunction. These days going down long inclines if one is smelling the brakes of another then they are most likely dealing with a rookie or a fool up ahead.

      Truck fires are pretty horrible. They can really go up quickly. A couple years ago going down to Smyrna, TN on I-65 S one night I had just coming down the hill one goes down as they approach the Nashville and there was cop lite up moving in the hammer lane. There is a blind turn at the bottom where it flattens out and that cop was the tip off to back er down. Sure enough shortly after the curve at the bottom traffic was stopped for a truck fire on the North bound side. I was close to the front of the line and could see it all. The flames were being blown across the median and over onto the south bound side even though the accident was in the right lane on the North bound side. FedEx double had run into the rear of another rig and was totally engulfed. The driver of the truck in front had tried to get the FedEx driver out but couldn’t. Seeing and smelling such things gets the point across far better than any safety meeting or training one could ever receive.

      • Crashex says:

        Yeah, the driver tattle-tell systems the large fleets use will transmit information as the rig is moving. The goal of those systems is tracking route, location, travel time and aggressive driver behavior (being hard on the truck/load). The quality of the data for crash reconstuction purposes is sometimes not very useful. The engine ECM data is a better quality source for analysis, so I always think of it first.

        The newer camera systems are impressive and very helpful. However, the number of trucks using them is still pretty small.

        The big flat front grille on the semi in the video just didn’t look like a recent model year to me. As you point out, the newest trucks have all kinds of data features, auto-braking, lane departure bells and whistles, etc..

        There is likely data to be recovered from some of the crashed cars as well. Or a dash cam of someone driving closer to the area of impact. Or, a highway cam posted near that interchange.

        • rah says:

          At my company we had it when it was a company of less than 500 trucks. To this day the company is classified as a medium sized one even though there are now about 700 trucks. Fact is the camera systems do not only help protect the company, they protect the driver also since now lawyers aren’t just going after the company but also going after the driver in civil suits.

          Over 80% of all cases end up finding the truckers at fault. I talked to the #2 man at the company about it. He said they’re sick of it and that is why they are installing the camera systems.

          This driver thinks that dash cam system is excellent. What I object to is the camera pointed at the driver. Mark my words. Videos from those cameras inside of trucks are going to be leaked to the general public and when they do the lawsuits will fly!

          BTW today I am supposed to off. An hour ago they called me and asked me to come right in and do a Milk run servicing the Toyota account up in Michigan for the Vandalia, OH terminal. The wife ground the beans and got the coffee going to fill my thermoses while I did the three “S’s”. While I was in the shower there was another call and she brought the phone to me. I stuck my head out of the shower to take the call and found out they had found a regular driver to take the run. Such is the life of a salary “guarantee” driver. I would have gone because I would have earned $560.00 for about 14 hours of work. But that does not mean I am not happy to be home where we have steaks marinating that I will be putting on the grill for dinner.

        • rah says:

          In that urban area would think they have cameras anyway. I see them up on their poles all the time along interstates in areas where there is high traffic or particular features such as bridges.

    • Colorado Wellington says:


      I’m afraid your guess will be proved right that this tragedy was caused by a preventable human error.

      The descent on I-70 east towards Denver has the first steep drop, then a long fairly mild “shelf” with slight uphill sections and another steep drop. There are warning signs for truckers to not get fooled by the view of the plains from the “shelf”.

      The consecutive signage says:

      NEXT 5 MILES
      4 MORE MILES

      You can see the plains on the horizon but they are still far below this section of the highway. Let’s wait for the results of the investigation but I will not be surprised if it finds the driver disregarded the warnings and cooked his breaks going down the second steep hill without engine breaking.

      • rah says:

        Nothing I have seen, with the exception of the truck run off ramp, makes that area look particularly hazardous to me. The cool thing in these newer trucks is that one can set their jake to kick in at a particular speed. So lets say I have my cruise set at 65 mph. I can then set the jake to kick in at 5 mph over my set cruise speed. When going down hill the truck will go to idle when it exceeds 65 mph then when it reaches 70 mph it kicks back into gear and applies as much engine braking as needed to not exceed 70 mph.

        When the load is heavy and grade steep and the engine braking alone can’t handle it then the RPMs will approach the red line on the tac. That is when you punch brake. Now of course if the load is heavy and grade is real steep and you throw in sharper curves it is a matter of judgment based on experience as to how you handle it.

        Really is comes down to knowing your load and your equipment and having done your pre-trip inspection so you know your equipment is functioning properly. Then once you know the road, you can make great time.

        Thursday on the longest decent on I-70, I-76 in PA with 22,ooo lb of plastic pallets in a refer trailer I was taking curves marked at 55 mph at over 65 mph. I have driven that road so many times I know it like the back of my hand. The road was dry and the traffic light and I have almost new rubber on the rig and it was fun.

  2. R Shearer says:

    No braking but why?

    • Adam Gallon says:

      On his mobile phone?

      • rah says:

        Now that would be what they call “distracted driving”. I doubt it was brake failure . When you use lose pressure powerful springs in the canisters apply the brakes. I imagine you have heard the blast of air when a truck sets his brakes at a stop. That’s the release of air pressure from the system that was keeping the powerful springs in the brake canisters compressed with a bladder. Ever noticed those heavy skid marks that usually run to the shoulder and perhaps have a big truck sitting there at the end of the skid mark. That is what happens when you lose air pressure in the system quickly such as the failure of an air hose or brake canister bladder. The springs in the air canisters are so powerful that people that have opened one the wrong way have been killed. It does not seem like they were on a heavy incline that would have caused overheated the brakes. Impossible to determine what the cause was from the information provided as yet but I doubt brake failure.

      • R Shearer says:

        The driver, Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, has been arrested for vehicular homicide. I wonder whether he and or his truck are from South of the border.

  3. JCalvertN(UK) says:

    I’ve been down that hill many times. And on a couple of occasions I’ve seen a truck going down in a cloud of brakes-smoke. Like a comet. In these instances I’m sure the driver was aware he was having problems. (“Shorting himself” to coin a phrase) If there had been a line of cars ahead a similar accident would have ensued.

    And there are plenty of warning signs. Every few hundred yards there is a sign saying, “Winding 6% Grade. Stay geared down next 3 miles.”
    “Truckers you are not down yet, another 1.5 miles of steep grades and sharp curves to go.” https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@39.6982495,-105.2345226,3a,75y,50.44h,105.42t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sAakz0LzAsP3rCXkSbv0h7w!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    • rah says:

      A lot of immigrants from Africa, India, Mexico, driving in the US these days and seem to make up the majority of drivers in Canada.

      BTW when I was doing long hauls back and forth across the US I did my best to avoid taking I-70 over the mountains. I-40 is the best, but I-10 and I-80 are both better than I-70. Colorado is the only state that requires you to chain all tractor drive and trailer tires when required to chain up. Other states let you get by alternating. Besides that Denver is a pain in the rear.

      • Colorado Wellington says:

        RAH, I am sure that you, Gator and others here who drove in continental Europe know that they use mainly pictorial symbols on the roads, and did for more than 50 years. I always thought that one must be proficient in English to be a truly competent driver in the U.S. because there are so many text signs.

        • rah says:

          If I remember correctly, to get my German drivers license there were 50 signs on the test and the applicant had to get 100% of them correct. The test was tough. Far tougher than any drivers licensing test I had ever taken including the one for the International Drivers license that I already had. Most of the US soldiers that took it with me failed and would have to come back and try again. I had been forewarned and given a study guide and memorized it before taking the test and passed.

          My team visited the German Bundespolizei (Federal Police) museum in Munich. We had conducted some tactical training for one of their units and our being given a guided tour of this museum which was not open to the general public and was maintained as a training tool for their law enforcement. This was their payback. Our guide was a woman who could have run for Miss Universe and won wearing a short form fitting skirt. Very hot and spoke excellent English.

          The “museum” had different rooms for different types of crimes. A room for suicide and homicide. A room for sexual deviancy and crimes. A room for smuggling. etc.

          In the room for counterfeiting we learned that the most counterfeited document in Germany was their drivers licenses and that it was estimated that something like 40% of all of them were counterfeit.

          Personally I wish that our drivers license tests here would be a lot tougher than they are.

        • rah says:

          If language is determined to be the problem the DOT will be paying the CDL trainers and testers a visit.

  4. Mac says:

    That truck was going at least 80 miles an hour. It didn’t look like it was out of control. The driver wasn’t blaring his horn, and the truck was following a straight line. It looked more like either intentional destructiveness, or impatience with a traffic jam. Thousands of big trucks go down long steep grades every day in this country, and no one gets killed. So, I would be willing to wager almost anything that:

    1) There was no mechanical problem with the truck
    2) The driver of the truck is completely to blame
    3) The driver is also an illegal immigrant who probably does not have a license to drive a semi.

    This is why the police are saying they really don’t know anything. They’re covering up.

    • rah says:

      A big truck flying close by you at 80 mph will rock your world. Sometimes it seems like I’m changing lanes more often to give safe space to vehicles on the shoulder than I am due to traffic and passing.

      People really are dumb about it. I’ve seen a group of kids standing by their stopped vehicles on the shoulder of an interstate grab assing and fooling around and out right on the white line like they were in a park or something.

      One time I had a Volvo station wagon pass me with a mattress strapped on top. A little later I come around a blind curve and there they are on the shoulder with the guy out adjusting the straps holding the mattress. Had traffic in the left lane so I couldn’t get over so I rocked their world. Not even 1/4 mile ahead of them was an exit ramp where the guy could have secured his mattress in relative safety. Later they passed me again and his wife gave me a dirty look. Morons! You remember stuff like that but never dwell on it. If you do it will have a negative effect on your attitude and thus your driving. You will become less respectful of human life.

    • R Shearer says:

      The story is unfolding. He’s from Cuba and supposedly has a green card and CDL.

    • Colorado Wellington says:


      Don’t bet too much money on your hunch.

      In the videos I saw he started cutting curves through the lanes just to stay on the road. It looked like he was already without brakes.

      I know that section of I-70 west of Denver reasonably well and it’s very deceiving. My best guess is that the driver disregarded or could not read the warning signs, upshifted too early during the descent, burned out his brakes, missed the last chance to take a runaway truck ramp out and ultimately panicked when he came down at full speed to the standing traffic at Colorado Mills.

      We will know soon what happened.

  5. Colorado Wellington says:

    It seems that the police were just careful in their early public briefings. Lakewood Police Detective Ty Countryman said the investigators were aware of the videos but they were piecing it together with other evidence, eye witness testimonies, etc.

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