• January 10, 2019

Johnny Coleman, Heidi Mateo Killed; Miguel Imul, Dilia Mateo Injured in 18-Wheeler Accident in Lee County, FL

UPDATE, January 14 2019: News reports indicate that Heidi Jolin Mateo, age 9 months, has died in the hospital.

Lee County, FL -- On January 9, 2019, a fatal wreck on the bridge over the Caloosahatchee River took the life of 58-year-old Johnny Coleman and caused serious injuries to three others: 24-year-old driver Miguel Imul, 16-year-old Dilia Mateo, and 9-month-old Heidi Mateo.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the crash happened just after 9:00 a.m. on the I-75 bridge near the Bayshore Road exit. A tractor-trailer reportedly stalled in the right lane of traffic on the bridge. Coleman's van approached the truck in the same lane and started to slow down when it was rear-ended by another car. The van was pushed into the rear of the truck and then along the concrete wall of the bridge. After striking the van, the car then collided with the rear of the disabled 18-wheeler and caught fire.

Coleman was pronounced dead at the scene. Miguel Imul and Dilia Mateo were transported to Lee Memorial Hospital with serious injuries. Heidi Mateo was rushed to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition.

Authorities continue to investigate the crash.

Map of the Area

Commentary

Looking at this crash, some people may feel inclined to put the blame at the feet of the driver who didn't slow down and hit the van. Others may seek to lay fault at the feet of the van driver, depending on how abruptly he applied his brakes near the truck. What should be remembered, though, is that neither of these things would have been an issue in the first place if not for the broken-down truck sitting in a travel lane like a 40-ton boulder.

Some may object to including the truck in the chain of fault for the accident; after all, mechanical things just break sometimes, don't they? That may be true, but they break far more often when their integral parts have eroded or disconnected from neglect.

Some commercial truck firms will try to save money by delaying critical maintenance on their fleets--anything to keep the trucks rolling, because deadlines rule the logistics industry. This sort of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality is not just detrimental when dealing with trucks; it's actually downright dangerous. Just because the vehicle manages to limp along to a few more deliveries doesn't mean it's invincible. Sometimes, that neglect will make them break down in high-speed travel lanes, putting dozens if not hundreds of other drivers at risk until the obstacle can be removed.

With that said, I know that sometimes well-maintained vehicles still break down unpredictably. An important tool for determine which thing you're looking at--a fully functional machine ambushed by a whimsical universe or a failing one whose owners are way behind on its upkeep--is the maintenance log that every commercial firm is required to keep. The log is a record of what service and repairs have been performed on their trucks and when.

Of course, if a company has neglected its trucks it's not likely to just hand over the logs that prove its negligence, and it's not required to by default. Plaintiffs must often obtain a subpoena, or official court order, to make the companies surrender that vital evidence.

Few road accidents are quite as simple as they appear, and knowing what caused them is vital to determining what will happen next.

--Grossman Law Offices

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