The CHP is recommending that a gross vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against a semitrailer driver involved in a Christmas Eve crash that killed four people, according to a report compiled by the CHP.
The incident occurred at a dangerous intersection north of Paso Robles, on Highway 101 at Wellsona Road.
According to a 126-page analysis of the accident prepared by the CHP, Phillip Ken Trujillo, 56, of Las Vegas knew the semitrailer he was driving was malfunctioning before he attempted to make a left turn onto Wellsona Road. Because the truck was traveling at such a slow speed, the report notes, Crystal Reuck, 22, of San Miguel did not have time to stop her van, which was traveling south on Highway 101.
Reuck’s van struck the semi’s trailer, shearing off the top of the van at the dashboard. Reuck and her three passengers — Taylor M. Swarthout, 22; Karen Michelle Szasz, 45; and David M. Castillo, 42 — all died from injuries suffered in the accident.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, which received the report this week, still has to review the CHP’s findings before deciding whether to file charges, Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said.
While Reuck was determined to be under the influence of methamphetamine and marijuana, the CHP report says Trujillo caused the crash by making a dangerous turn in an unsafe vehicle.
“Trujillo’s actions were reckless and created a high risk of death or great bodily injury,” the report notes.
According to the report, Trujillo had dropped a loaded trailer off at Home Goods, a home décor store in San Luis Obispo, hours before the crash, which occurred about 6:15 p.m. While at Home Goods, he picked up an empty trailer. He then took a circuitous route to Paso Robles, traveling an average of 21.8 mph, en route to Las Vegas.
Trujillo knew the truck had pre-existing mechanical conditions because of a previous inspection, the report notes, yet he continued to drive it.
Because the semi’s first five gears weren’t working, it could only travel at roughly 2 mph as Trujillo attempted to turn onto Wellsona Road, headed for the San Paso Truck Stop. The truck also had an air loss that could have locked up the trailer brakes at any moment, the report noted.
As police were investigating the crash, the CHP report notes, Trujillo could be heard talking on his cellphone, repeating directions on how to erase information on his semi’s “black box” — an onboard computer. CHP investigators were not able to retrieve data from the black box.
Trujillo also gave three different statements after the collision regarding the condition of the truck and his reason for traveling to the San Paso Truck Stop, the report states.
“This was an obvious attempt to minimize his culpability in causing the collision,” it says.