Trucker involved in fatal crash says he couldn’t safely stop for yellow light

Jeffrey Penz is accused of the Motor Vehicle Act offences in relation to June 2010 crash that killed Ethan Baptiste.

  • Jul. 18, 2013 3:00 p.m.

The driver of a semi who allegedly ran a yellow light and was involved in a fatal crash three years ago testified the advanced amber warning lights were not flashing as he approached the intersection and he was not able to

safely stop his truck when the intersection light changed colour.

Jeffrey Penz, 39, is charged with the Motor Vehicle Act offences of failing to stop for a yellow light and drive without reasonable consideration.

Penz, who has been a trucker for 21 years, said he was approaching the light at Highway 97 and Westlake Road on June 8, 2010 when the light turned yellow.

“I was already up to my speed limit,” said Penz at his trial on Wednesday. “I was past the point…I couldn’t stop that rig.”

“It would be unsafe for me to hammer on my brakes with a fully loaded truck that close to the intersection,” he later added.

A pickup “cut in front” of the trucker and he “jogged” his vehicle to the right in the moments leading up to the crash.

After impact, Penz remembers seeing a Toyota Corolla in front of his rig.

“I remember looking down and …I remember seeing his (driver’s) eyes as I T-boned him and went over the cliff.”

The truck turned onto its side on the embankment near the Kal-Tire and burst into flames.

Penz climbed out of his window and then realized his passenger was still in the truck, he said. After getting the passenger out, he found a chain on a flat-bed truck and hooked it to the Corolla. With the help of a pickup

truck driver, they were able to pull the car free of the flames. The driver of that car was Ethan Baptiste, who died as a result of the crash.

Later in his testimony, Penz said the advanced amber lights were not flashing when he approached the intersection and also said the visor in his truck was down so the sun wouldn’t be in his eyes.

However, a police expert earlier testified that Penz should have seen the advanced amber lights and had “ample warning” to stop his vehicle prior to entering the intersection.

Sgt. Barry Noonan, a traffic reconstructionist, estimated how far from the advanced amber warning light the trucker was when the lights began flashing, indicating drivers should slow down for an upcoming light change. He was not able to determine the semi’s speed at the time of the crash.

Based on the assumption that the pickup involved in the crash began turning left when the light turned yellow, the location of the impact on the road and information from the pickup’s airbag module, Noonan testified the semi was a minimum of 34 metres north of the advanced warning board when it began flashing (assuming a speed of 60 km/hr). The semi could have been 106 metres north of the warning board if the truck was travelling at a speed of 90 kilometres per hour, he said.

The speed limit on that stretch of highway is 80 kilometres per hour, said Noonan. Penz estimates he was doing 80 at the time of the crash.

Based on his observations and calculations, Noonan said “the tractor trailer would have had ample warning to bring his vehicle to a safe stop.”

Noonan also testified there was no evidence of pre-collision braking, and that the steering axle dislodged during the initial crash, removing the ability to steer the semi after impact.

Under cross examination, Noonan agreed the driver’s sight lines would be affected if a visor was down in the cab of the truck and was questioned about whether he looked into factors that would have obstructed the driver’s view, such as the sun.

Noonan said there was no indication that sun was an issue in this case, and because of that did not calculate the sun’s location in the sky as part of his report.

The trial concluded Wednesday afternoon. The judge is tentatively scheduled to render a decision on Aug. 2.

By Cheryl Wierda, Capital News contributor

Kelowna Capital News