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I-Team: Unsafe Trucks On Mass. Roadways

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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BOSTON (CBS) – We all know how nerve-wracking it can be to share the road with trucks, and it turns out, with good reason. An I-Team investigation found trucks in Massachusetts are not measuring up when it comes to safety.

There have been a rash of frightening and in some cases spectacular truck accidents in Massachusetts over the last year.

A beer truck dangled dangerously over the Leverett Connector.

(Photo from Boston Fire/Twitter)

(Photo from Boston Fire/Twitter)

A dump truck plowed through the guardrail on the Southeast Expressway and landed on it’s side in Dorchester Bay.

On Patriots Day, a tractor trailer rear-ended a disabled taxi, igniting a fireball on the Zakim Bridge. The taxi driver, Debra Sarno of Malden, was killed. “I just pray that she didn’t suffer, because for anybody to die the way she died is just horrific,” said Joe Hyde, Sarno’s co-worker and roommate. Hyde would like answers about what really happened in that early morning crash. “I basically consider her a second mother,” he said.

Sergeant Chuck Devin leads a State Police unit that spends its days looking for unsafe trucks on Massachusetts roads. “What goes through my mind is my family, that they’re out there on the road with these trucks,” said Sgt. Devin. “We see what maybe the normal person doesn’t.”

That’s a good thing because the I-Team found federal records show Massachusetts may have more than its share of problem trucks. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, over the last five years, the rate of serious mechanical violations found on trucks in Massachusetts is 41 percent higher than the national average. Adding to that, driver violations are 32 percent higher and hazardous material violations are 212 percent higher.

The violations being found are often serious safety hazards. They include faulty brakes, no turn signals, spilling or falling cargo, and drivers with suspended licenses, to name just a few.

We spent a morning with Sgt. Devin’s truck team, watching them pull over trucks in Milton and conduct inspections. “See we have a bald tire here, completely bald,” said State Police Trooper Vincent Noe during an inspection of a truck loaded with sand.

Noe also found the truck’s load of sand was not adequately secured. “If he makes a sharp turn, that load will come right off onto the roadway,” the trooper said.

We asked Sgt. Devin why he thought the number of safety violations found on trucks in Massachusetts is so high. “We lead the other states by our enforcement and what we find,” Sgt. Devin said. Asked if the State Police truck teams’ inspections are saving lives, he said: “Most definitely.”

John Hamel, owner of a truck company in Lynn and the vice chairman of the Massachusetts Motor Transportation Association, defended the record of Bay State trucks. “I think that we have a good core group of professional drivers and companies that have a strong dedication to safety,” Hamel said.

Hamel also said the federal statistics may be misleading. “The Mass State Police are doing their jobs and performing their functions well so perhaps they are catching more on a roadside inspection than another state may,” he said.

An aerial view of a truck crash on the Zakim Bridge. (WBZ-TV

An aerial view of a truck crash on the Zakim Bridge. (WBZ-TV

Meanwhile, the State Police are still probing the accident that killed Debra Sarno on the Zakim Bridge. According to a State Police spokesman, investigators want to know why the truck driver did not take evasive measures and never applied his brakes.

Sarno’s friend Joe Hyde is frustrated. “I don’t want to say he was texting or talking on the phone, but obviously he just wasn’t paying attention,” he said. The tractor-trailer in that accident is owned by a Hartford trucking company. Officials there have so far refused to comment.

If you have a tip for the I-Team, we want to hear from you. Email us at iteam@wbztv.com or call (617) 787-7030.

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