• July 06, 2021

UPDATE: Natisha Moffett, 5 Children Killed in 18-Wheeler Crash on I-10 in Tonopah, AZ

UPDATE (July 9, 2021): Further investigation by Arizona DPS suggests events may have gone somewhat differently than previously reported.

According to later releases from investigators, drivers Natisha Moffett and Iyona Holton were initially traveling westbound on I-10. Both their vehicles--Moffett's Nissan Altima and Holton's GMC Envoy--reportedly drove into and through the dirt median, a marked “No U-Turn” zone, in order to turn around and travel east. As the vehicles entered the eastbound travel lanes, they were struck by a commercial 18-wheeler.

After her release from the hospital, Iyona Holton (spelled in other news released as Lyonwa Holton) was arrested on suspicion of four counts of aggravated assault and one count each of possession of dangerous drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Tonopah, AZ -- July 2, 2021, driver Natisha Moffett and her five children were killed in a three-vehicle accident on Interstate 10 in Tonopah.

Authorities say the incident happened around 1:20 p.m. on eastbound I-10 at mile marker 82. Preliminary investigation suggests Moffett was driving a Nissan Altima on the roadway when it began to experience unknown issues or possibly a flat tire. The Altima and an SUV driven by Moffett's friend Iyona Holton pulled to the side of the road and were there a only a few moments before an approaching tractor-trailer failed to control its speed and rear-ended the Nissan. The force of the impact caused the Nissan to split in half and catch on fire. The 18-wheeler then continued onward and also struck Holton's SUV.

Moffett and five children inside the Nissan suffered fatal injuries in the collision. Holton and four children in the SUV were hospitalized with serious injuries. The truck driver was unhurt.

The investigation is ongoing. No further information is currently available.

Commentary on Natisha Moffett Accident on I-10 in Tonopah

UPDATE (July 9, 2021): Later reports about this incident change the context considerably. While it was previously reported that the victims pulled onto the roadside to attend to a vehicular issue, investigators now say they were making a prohibited U-turn when hit by the big rig.

While the circumstances of the crash may be different, some of the underlying principles I mentioned previously still apply. If the commercial truck driver could see the two passenger vehicles beginning their maneuver from far enough away to do something in response, but failed to take any action and just plowed into them instead, some of the responsibility for their injuries should lie with that driver. They may not have been making a legal U-turn if reports are accurate, but the law's expectation of reasonable prudence from all drivers means they should avoid any accident they possibly can even when they have the right-of-way. That expectation is heightened for professional drivers, and the consequences for negligently failing to avoid a crash are more pronounced--if negligence is proven to be a factor.

I don't want to come down on the truck driver since no one can really say at this point whether they stood any chance of avoiding the collision. Reports aren't clear how much space there was between the truck and the turning cars, and if there was nothing to be done it would be unjust to point any fingers. I only hope the incident is carefully examined and properly understood, as the conflicting narratives in reports already concern me some.

Natisha Moffett, 5 Children Killed in 18-Wheeler Crash on I-10 in Tonopah, AZ

ORIGINAL: Absent any obvious and catastrophic cause, a vehicle typically rear-ends another because its driver somehow acted negligently. That might mean they were speeding, following too closely, or distracted, among other things. None of those were specifically mentioned in the devastating crash on I-10, but I'm sure investigators will consider them while trying to identify how this tragedy could have unfolded.

Unfortunately, law enforcement is sometimes content with looking for evidence of just those common factors and digging no deeper. Experience has taught me to look elsewhere as well. For instance, was anything wrong with the 18-wheeler, like a brake failure? Was the driver somehow incapacitated or unable to brake? Did a personal or medical issue stop them from reacting? If so, were those issues previously known to their employer? How long were they driving before the crash occurred? When was their last break, and what did they do? Were there issues with road conditions or design in the area? What is visibility and lighting like? Was any other traffic around at the time?

Some may be under the mistaken impression that rear-end crashes are automatically the rearmost driver's fault, and therefore answering all these additional questions is unnecessary. Indeed, the way this crash is reported in the news it seems as though liability is a foregone conclusion. However, these incidents are rarely as simple as they may first appear. That's why all those subtler details are so important--to properly and fully understand the circumstances of the wreck. Unless its every element is identified and addressed, there is opportunity for the at-fault party (and their employer) to blame something or someone else and thereby escape liability for their driver's possible negligence.

Having said that, it's not at all my intent to attack the truck driver here. I have seen many instances where a commercial driver had no time to react or something robbed them of control as they approached other vehicles, and even when they regained control it was too late to halt the inertia of their 40-ton vehicles. Looking more closely at the Tonopah crash might exonerate the truck driver if the situation was truly out of their hands. My goal is not to unfairly blame them without evidence, but only to ensure through rigorous investigation that the true cause is found and the appropriate parties--if any--are held responsible.

Considering the enormous blow this accident dealt to the victims and their loved ones, they deserve to know that experienced investigators made every effort to find the whole truth. If that truth demands action and proper accountability, those steps will be determined partly by what is uncovered.

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