Tanker Crash Most Likely Driver Error

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The cause of a deadly and road-charring gasoline tanker crash on Highway 87 three weeks ago was the result of driver error.

An insurance inspector examined the Caterpillar semi-tractor driven by 48-year-old Glendale resident James Magierka, who died at the scene, DPS Sgt. John Whetten said.

"As soon as (the inspector) got (to the wreckage), he wanted to look at the transmission, and he was ready to pull the top off of it when he noticed the placement of the shift control was stuck in neutral," Whetten said.

Whetten said he was present when the inspector went over the wreckage of the tractor, and the inspector immediately focused on the transmission.

He said the inspector was able to determine the transmission was in neutral when the accident occurred.

"The inspector said his inspection of the transmission shifting mechanism and the position of the shifter (in neutral) indicated Magierka was likely at too high a speed when he tried to downshift at the top of the hill and was unable to get it back into a lower gear and was probably unable to control his vehicle, as it went down the hill," Whetten added.

The inspector told Whetten the shifter was not moved in the accident.

The accident occurred on Sept. 23 when Magierka lost control of the tanker and collided with the center barrier on Highway 87 near milepost 228, about 20 miles south of Payson.

Officer Whetten estimated Magierka's speed at about 80 miles per hour when he was at the top of the hill, when he tried to shift to a lower gear.

Whetten also said there were no indications Magierka had been using engine brakes during his descent either.

"I heard from witnesses Magierka was going extremely fast down the hill and they told me it looked to them as though he was not in control of the tanker," Whetten said.

"The official report hasn't come out yet, but it will probably be attributed to driver error," DPS Sgt. John Whetten said.

Whetten said the inspector went to look over the scene of the accident yesterday with an officer from DPS and the official determination of the cause of the accident should be completed within a of couple weeks.

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