March 24, 2019
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Trucking firm whose driver was charged with manslaughter has troubling safety record

WASHINGTON, Maine — The trucking company that employed a Tennessee man facing manslaughter charges related to a March crash in Washington that killed two people has a safety record far worse than the national average.

R & E Logistics Inc. of Chuckey, Tennessee, hired Randall Junior Weddle, 54, in September 2015, according to company owner Rick Mullenix. He said Tuesday that he was not aware Weddle’s motor vehicle license had been revoked in Virginia and suspended in Louisiana.

The company owner then decided any other questions from the Bangor Daily News should be directed to his attorney, but Mullenix did not follow through with a promise to provide that attorney’s name and contact information. He also did not respond to calls to his office Wednesday.

Weddle was arrested Friday in Virginia by the Russell County Sheriff’s Office on warrants from Knox County on two counts of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated driving under the influence for the March 18 crash.

He appeared in Russell County District Court in Virginia on Tuesday and waived extradition, a court clerk said Wednesday.

Assistant Knox County District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody said Wednesday that Weddle would be transferred to the Knox County Jail in Rockland within two weeks. A private inmate transport company would bring him to Maine, Baroody said.

Records maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration indicate that based on records for the last two years through April 29, an average of 20.7 percent of commercial vehicles nationwide are taken out of service after inspections by law enforcement.

The rate for R & E Logistics, however, is more than double the average, with 42.9 percent of its vehicles taken out of service after inspections over the same time span, according to the safety administration.

In addition, the Tennessee company’s drivers were ordered out of service 15.4 percent of the time after inspections, compared with the national average of 5.5 percent.

The violations found during 13 inspections on R & E Logistics vehicles during the past 24 months included problems with brakes, tires, a cracked frame, and malfunctioning turn signals and headlights, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Details of why drivers were taken out of service were not listed in the records.

R & E Logistics has six drivers and six trucks, according to the motor carrier agency.

Lt. Robert Nichols, commander of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division with the Maine Department of Public Safety, said a driver could be taken out of service for a wide range of reasons including failure to wear a seat belt, speeding, or not maintaining the required travel log.

According to an affidavit filed by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to obtain the arrest warrants for Weddle, his blood-alcohol level was 0.09 when a blood sample was taken from him by an emergency medical services worker at the scene of the crash on Route 17 near the intersection of Fitch Road.

A sample taken more than an hour later at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston allegedly had his blood alcohol level at 0.073. The driver also had hydrocodone in his system, according to the police report.

Under Maine law, a person is considered operating under the influence if the blood alcohol level is at 0.08 or greater. Federal law states that a commercial driver is under the influence if the blood alcohol level is 0.04 or greater.

Nichols pointed out that if police detect any alcohol on a commercial driver during a stop, the driver is taken out of service for a minimum of 24 hours. Commercial drivers also are not allowed to possess alcohol in their trucks unless it is part of the cargo being transported, Nichols said.

The police affidavit also reported that Weddle’s motor vehicle license had been revoked in Virginia and was suspended in Louisiana. He still had a valid license in Tennessee, however.

A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles said Wednesday afternoon in an email that the state’s strict privacy laws prohibit officials from speaking about an individual’s driving record.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security did not respond Wednesday to a call seeking information about why Weddle’s license was still active in that state.

Nichols said that when a commercial trucker is stopped for a violation or inspection in Maine, officers will check on whether there are any suspensions or revocations in all 50 states. He acknowledged that some states only check in the state where a stop is made and the driver’s home state as listed on the license.

Weddle’s last known address was Greeneville, Tennessee.

Christina Torres-York, 45, of Warren and Paul Fowles, 74, of Owls Head were killed in the March 18 crash.

Weddle told investigators at the hospital that he had not been feeling well and had taken a drug called Lortab, which contains hydrocodone. Weddle said he had come from Tennessee and made a delivery in Massachusetts before coming to Maine to pick up lumber in Searsmont. He was heading back to Tennessee to deliver the load when the accident occurred.

Weddle’s truck had been traveling 81 mph shortly before the crash and was operating at 73 mph when it occurred, according to the affidavit. That information was obtained from data downloaded from the engine control module, according to police.

A witness who was driving a car behind the truck said that he was driving 60 mph along Route 17 and that the tractor-trailer left him behind in a short time. The speed limit is 55 mph on that section of Route 17.

Another motorist reported that the tractor-trailer had swerved into the oncoming lane before the crash.

Weddle was driving west on Route 17 near Fitch Road when the 1998 Freightliner loaded with lumber veered into the eastbound lane, according to police. Fowles was driving east in a 2009 Chevrolet Colorado and was the first vehicle in line struck by the truck.

The trailer and load of lumber then struck a 1998 Chrysler van that was behind Fowles and being driven by Torres-York. The van was pushed into a nearby field and burst into flames.

A 2014 Nissan driven by Tracy Cook, 51, of Union also was struck by the trailer, and it rolled over once before hitting another vehicle that had been following, a 2015 Kia driven by Tracy Morgan, 33, of Washington. Morgan was able to avoid being struck by the trailer after she took evasive action, but not the Nissan as it rolled over. Both the Nissan and Kia came to rest in the field to the right.

Morgan was uninjured in the crash. Cook was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

Weddle was taken by a LifeFlight helicopter to CMMC in Lewiston. A passenger in the Freightliner, Lowell Babb, 32, of Virginia, was taken to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and treated for minor injuries.

When Weddle appears in the Rockland courtroom, he can seek to have bail changed from the $100,000 cash that was set by the judge who approved the warrants for his arrest.

The maximum possible sentence for manslaughter is 30 years in prison.

 



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