Report by the Nevada Highway Patrol pinpoints "faulty brakes" were likely the cause for the conflagrant June accident of a lumber truck that catapulted off the end of a runaway truck ramp and into a Lake Tahoe residence.
Members of the NHP's Major Accident Investigation Team concluded, that even though much of the truck's debris was burnt beyond the point of effective examination, experts were still able to detect "at least one set of the brakes on the trailer were insufficient" to safely descend the steep Mount Rose Highway.
Trooper Eric Gallagher was the person handling the investigation of the accident that took the life of a 41-year-old Frederick Douglas Matthews and left an Incline Village home devastated. "With the brakes that we could actually examine, there were problems," said Gallagher.
"That was probably the main cause of it -- insufficient braking," Gallagher explained. "A heavy truck like that can get serious momentum going down a hill like that."
Investigators also found out that the driver had trace amounts of marijuana in his system at the time of the accident and discovered that one front tire has inadequate tread. This is according to the NHP report which was completed last week.
Matthews died in June 18 after his 1999 Kenworth, hauling a flatbed trailer with a load of lumber, lost its brakes and sprung up the end of a runaway truck ramp on the lower Mount Rose Highway near Nevada Route 28.
The truck slammed into a home and blew up, with the resulting fire consumed the structure. The lone resident of the house at the time got away with no injuries, but Matthews was trapped in the wrecked cab and perished in the fire.
The NHP report did not touch the question of whether the ramp worked properly. The site had at least three similar accidents over the years.
Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman, Scott Magruder, said, officials with the NDOT still are estimating whether the ramp should be extended or otherwise physically altered or whether additional safety signing is required.
Wit the issues surrounding the ramp's effectiveness, Gallagher's response was,"I'm not going to get into that one."
Such ramps are "designed obviously to slow or stop a truck that has gotten away from its driver," according to Chuck Allen, an NHP spokesman.
Gallagher said, the truck's transmission was burned to the point it was impossible to pin down what gear it was in when the crash happened.
The truck's wheels might have been turning too fast to allow the driver to efficiently slow down by downshifting as problems developed, he said.
"That's just a theory. We can't prove it" Gallagher admitted.
Investigators were unable to figure out the speed the truck was traveling when it reached the runaway ramp, but it's possible it was running as fast as 100 mph as one witness reported, Gallagher said.
Toxicology tests discovered the driver had 1.3 nanograms per millimeter of THC, marijuana's active ingredient, in his system. That's below Nevada's legal limit of 2 nanograms but still "could have been a factor" in the crash, Gallagher said.
Washoe County's chief toxicologist, Bill Anderson, said it's impossible to find out whether the driver was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident with THC levels so low.
Anderson said, marijuana might have been used hours or even days before the crash with THC at such levels.
The NHP report concluded, the brake problem was detected in one of the trailer's axles. It was serious enough that the truck would have been put out of service if discovered by an inspection.
"It is suspected that (the vehicle's) brakes were insufficient to safely negotiate the present downgrade (6.3 percent) of the roadway," the report said.
According to Wilma Knowles owner of Redding, Calif.-based Kennie Knowles Trucking Co., Matthews was moving a load of lumber when the accident happened, with drops planned at Reno, Sparks, Fallon, and Incline Village. The combined weight of truck and cargo was about 80,000 pounds, Gallagher said.
Knowles said the truck and trailer had been regularly serviced -- including brake inspections.