NTSB: ‘Medical incapacitation’ the cause of 2019 Florida fatality crash

June 1, 2021

Greg Grisolano

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A trucker became medically incapacitated before crashing his truck into oncoming traffic, resulting in a multiple fatality crash in January 2019 on Interstate 75 in Florida, according to a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board’s report also notes that the Eagle Express truck driver – a 59-year-old man who was unnamed in the report and who is one of seven people who died in the crash – had “several serious medical conditions,” including coronary heart disease, which was cited as a contributing factor in the truck driver’s cause of death.

“Overall, several medical conditions and medications had the potential to render the Eagle Express driver incapacitated at the time of the crash,” the NTSB report states. “These include medical complications from severe coronary artery disease, persistent aspiration due to a recurrent hiatal hernia, and prescription medications.”

Crash details

At approximately 3:40 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, the Eagle Express truck was traveling northbound in the right lane of I-75 near mile marker 393 in Alachua County, near Gainesville, when it abruptly veered to the left and “began an arcing path of travel across the other two travel lanes” the report states.

Seven people – including both truck drivers – died as a result of the crash. Eight more were injured.

The truck and trailer appeared to ensnare a 2016 Acura SUV that was traveling in the left lane, redirecting it as the tractor-trailer crashed through the median barrier and entered oncoming traffic in the southbound lanes of I-75. The Eagle Express truck struck a 12-passenger church van, causing the van to roll twice and eject 10 of its 12 passengers. Debris from that collision also struck a pickup traveling behind the van.

The Eagle Express truck continued across the southbound lanes and struck a 2018 Freightliner tractor-trailer, operated by New Prime Inc., that was traveling in the far-right lane at about 61 mph.

The crash sequence was captured by a dashboard camera in the New Prime truck. A post-crash fire, fed by fuel from a breached saddle tank on the Eagle Express truck, engulfed the Eagle Express truck, the New Prime truck, and the Acura passenger car. The Eagle Express driver was ejected from his vehicle. The NTSB report states that its unknown if he was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

NTSB’s review found no evidence that the driver of the Eagle Express truck took any evasive maneuvers to avoid the crashes. The crash took place during daylight hours on a clear, dry roadway. The crash occurred at around 3:40 p.m., approximately 23 minutes after the driver had completed his 30-minute rest break.

Medical certification

According to the NTSB report, beginning in January 2014, the driver began seeing different physicians for each of his medical examinations. The report claims the driver “continued omitting his cardiovascular history on the examination form, and no evidence indicated that the examining physician was aware of this history.”

During each of the driver’s medical examinations in January 2014, February 2016, and February 2018, he answered “no” to key health questions and continued to report not taking any medications. The medical examiners noted no significant abnormalities during any of these visits.

“Again without the driver accurately reporting his health history, he began receiving medical certifications that were valid for the maximum allowed period of 2 years,” the report states. “A complete medical exam might have resulted in a shorter medical certification period but would not have predicted his incapacitation on the day of the crash.” LL

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Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.