Truck driver charged with manslaughter in North County crash that killed 4

A semitruck driver who allegedly tampered with evidence after a North County crash that killed four people has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

Phillip Ken Trujillo, 56, of Las Vegas, is set to appear in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for an arraignment Aug. 13, charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

Trujillo was headed home to Nevada on Christmas Eve after dropping off one trailer and picking up another one in San Luis Obispo. But his truck had multiple mechanical problems, according to a CHP report, including defective gears.

Despite traveling at an average speed of 21.8 mph from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, the CHP report states, Trujillo continued to drive the truck, which had previously been cited for mechanical defects during an inspection.

At the intersection of Highway 101 and Wellsona Road near Paso Robles, Trujillo attempted to make a left turn onto Wellsona, according to the CHP. But because of the truck’s mechanical problems, he made the turn at an estimated 2 mph.

At the same time, multiple cars were headed toward the truck in the southbound lanes of Highway 101. While two cars managed to avoid the truck, a van driven by Crystal Reuck, 22, did not. The van crashed into the semi’s trailer, shearing off the van’s roof, and continued to travel under the trailer until coming to a stop 10 to 15 feet beyond the truck, witnesses told the CHP.

As police investigated the crash, according to the CHP report, Trujillo was overheard on his cell phone taking directions on how to erase his truck’s “black box” — an onboard computer. Information from that computer was erased, according to the report.

While Reuck allegedly was under the influence of methamphetamine and marijuana, the CHP concluded that Trujillo caused the accident by not yielding the right-of-way to approaching vehicles and by driving an unsafe vehicle.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune