Jimmy Gaytan Killed in Crash with Wrong-Way 18-Wheeler on FM 1716 in Rusk County, TX
Rusk County, TX -- December 1, 2021, 39-year-old Jimmy Gaytan was killed in a collision with a wrong-way semi-truck on Farm to Market Road 1716 in Rusk County.
Authorities say the incident happened around 7:20 p.m. on FM 1716 near the town of Tatum. Preliminary investigation suggests 28-year-old Leonardo Ochoa was driving a Freightliner tractor-trailer north in the southbound lane of the roadway, against traffic. Nearby, Gaytan was traveling south in a Chevy Silverado pickup truck.
Reports indicate Ochoa tried to steer back into the northbound lane as the vehicles approached one another, but the semi-trailer was still partially in the southbound lane when it and the Chevy collided. After the impact the pickup caught fire and rolled backward until it stopped partially off the roadway.
Gaytan was pronounced dead at the scene. Ochoa was reportedly unhurt.
The crash remains under investigation. No further information is currently available.
Commentary on Jimmy Gaytan Accident on FM 1716 in Rusk County
UPDATE (January 10, 2021): Updated reports about this accident say that the wrong-way truck driver faces a potential charge of criminally-negligent homicide. Reports don't indicate how that specific charge was decided upon, but it seems as though the criminal justice system has a thing or two to say about the terrible events on FM 1716.
In some ways that may provide some satisfaction to the victim's loved ones, as the party who directly caused their loss will face justice. However, whatever moral satisfaction may come from seeing those consequences will not do a great deal to help those same loved ones get back on their feet. I don't mean to be crass by discussing pragmatic issues here, but anyone who has endured serious hardship or loss knows that it tends to have a serious financial impact as well an emotional one. In many cases the person who is injured or killed was critical to household income as either the sole or primary earner. Families are often unsure where to turn as the victim is unable to replenish what is used.
In situations where a negligent truck driver caused a victim's injury or death, it seems only right that the company behind that truck and driver be held accountable for the damage he did. The law agrees with that notion under the principle of respondeat superior, or "let the master answer." However, those companies are all too aware that they can be put on the hot seat. They send out their own investigators in search of whatever ammunition they can use to argue that something or someone else was responsible for the damage done. Victims must be ready with their own evidence and built case to overcome the company's objections or they risk their case being dismissed.
Since police likely consider their job essentially done after charging the truck driver, the family may benefit most from working with independent investigators. At the very least, a careful and thorough investigation can help ensure that all the answers are found.
ORIGINAL: Reports only provide a partial account of this crash. That's understandable given how recent it was, but the narrative as it stands really creates more questions than answers.
The first and most obvious question everyone will probably ask is "Why was that truck driver going the wrong way?" That could have a lot of answers, but in order to find the true one more questions probably need to be asked. For instance, what is visibility like along this stretch of road? Are there curves or obscured lines of sight? Did both vehicles have their headlights on? Could any additional factors have been involved, like driver distraction or fatigue, or possibly even intoxication? Was anything wrong with the truck itself that kept the driver from maintaining his lane? Perhaps most importantly, would a reasonably prudent professional driver have done all the same things that truck driver did?
The answer to the final question seems already answered if the commercial tractor was traveling against traffic on the highway, but it's still critical to find out why that happened. Finding the root cause will help determine who should be held responsible for the fatal crash. Moreover, finding all the objective facts of the matter will keep any convenient misdirects and excuses from being introduced by the trucking company in the event it's asked to take responsibility for its driver's actions.
Sometimes police are able to discern all the needed information for that, but other times subtle details escape them and a complete picture is never really found. That's why I often recommend working with independent accident reconstructionists after commercial crashes. Those experts have the training and tools to make sure no harder-to-find information goes unnoticed, and when it comes time to hold someone accountable for the fatality caused by this crash, every detail counts.