Truck Driver In Newhall Tunnel Crash Won't Be Charged
District Attorney turns down CHP request to charge driver of truck that blocked tunnel.
More than a year after the fiery crash that killed three
people and closed the southbound I-5 truck route for a month, officials have
determined that the first suspect presented by the California Highway Patrol
will not be charged for causing the fatal pileup.
Investigators from the California Highway Patrol asked the
District Attorney to file vehicular manslaughter charges against truck driver
Jose Reyes, who they determined was speeding just before his truck jackknifed and
blocked the tunnel, where 32 commercial trucks and one passenger vehicles
collided and many burned in the subsequent fire.
Three people died in the accident, including one 6-year old
Deputy District Attorney Courtney Armendariz turned down the
CHP request to charge Reyes, citing defense experts who could refute the claim
of Reyes’ speeding.
While the CHP contends that Reyes was driving at least 65
MPH in rainy conditions, exceeding the speed limit by 10 miles, Armendariz said
that “speed analysis is subject to different reasonable interpretation by
experts,” and noted the roadway alignment, or curve, just outside the tunnel
could have caused him to lose control.
In addition, investigators determined that the right front
brake of the truck was in an “out of service” condition with a build-up of old
grease around the wheel. The CHP contends that Reyes should have found this
fault in a required pre-trip inspection; however, the District Attorney
countered with the responsibility being that of the truck’s owner, SAIA Motor
Freight Line. They also said an argument could be raised that the condition
occurred after the collision occurred because of the oil going in all
directions after the engine dislodged.
Armendariz concluded that there was insufficient evidence to
believe that Reyes could be found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter
beyond a reasonable doubt, and the statute of limitations for charging Reyes
has now run out.
Investigation by the CHP’s Multi-Disciplinary Accident
Investigation Team into possible criminality by involved other drivers is
ongoing. For KHTS's reporting on the original incident, click here .