The death of a 42-year-old mother on a New Jersey highway in 2008 and the sentencing of a commercial truck driver with no previous record demonstrate the enormous responsibility that falls on the shoulders of commercial truckers every time they pick up a load and the consequences of not measuring and properly securing cargo.
On the early morning of November 18, Michelle Lamaze of Whitehall Township, New Jersey, was driving to work when she collided with a cargo container that became dislodged from a tractor trailer driven by 31-year-old driver Robert Kostadinov of Illinois. The top of Kostadinov’s cargo container, measuring 14 feet, 5 inches struck the bottom of the Fullerton Avenue overpass, which has a clearance of 13 feet, 10 inches. The container had also been improperly chained to the flatbed trailer and fell off the truck upon striking the bridge. Ms. Lamaze was killed when her SUV collided with the detached container.
Kostadinov plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving in January and on Friday he was sentenced to serve 5-23 months in Lehigh County Prison in New Jersey. Judge Kelly L. Banach immediately granted Kostadinov work release, whereupon he must perform 250 hours of community service, pay a $200 fine, and refrain from driving a vehicle for one year. He will also serve three years probation.
Kostadinov’s attorney said that the container, bound for Guam and filled with electrical switches, had been erroneously routed to California instead of New Jersey and that there was “a rush” to get it to its proper destination. Kostadniov told police that he had picked up the container in California and drove to New Jersey to deliver it.
Making sure a cargo load is safely secured is part of every commercial driver’s basic responsibility. Federal safety regulations require truck drivers to check their cargo every 300 miles and whenever the driver is returning to duty from a break. But what happens when the driver hasn’t been properly trained and relies on labor at the loading dock to properly secure the cargo?
Kostadinov told Judge Banach that he did not know the container’s height, had never measured the load, and had never been trained to do so. As a result, both he and his employer have to pay dearly. The family of Ms. Lamaze filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Indiana-based Vidov Trucking, Inc. and other companies involved in the cargo shipment. They received $1.86 million in damages.