• November 07, 2022

Marvin Wirtjes, Shirley Wirtjes, Donald Diebel Jr. Killed in Chain-Reaction Crash on US-54 in Hartley County, TX

Hartley County, TX — November 4, 2022, Marvin Wirtjes, Shirley Wirtjes, and Donald Diebel Jr. died in a multi-vehicle accident on U.S. Highway 54 near Dalhart.

Authorities say the incident happened around 11:30 a.m. on southbound US-54, around six miles southwest of town. Preliminary investigation suggests traffic was stopped in the area due to construction when a Freightliner approached from the north and failed to control its speed.

The big rig crashed into the back of an International semi-truck, pushing it into a nearby Ford F-150. The Ford then hit a Peterbilt tractor-trailer, causing it to rear-end a Jeep Grand Cherokee. That impact send the Jeep into a Mack 18-wheeler ahead of it.

Diebel (57), the driver of the Freightliner that allegedly triggered the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene. Ford F-150 driver Marvin Wirtjes (81) and passenger Shirtly Wirtjes (79) were also pronounced dead at the scene.

The International truck's driver and passenger were treated for minor injuries at a Dalhart hospital. The Jeep's driver and passenger were also treated there for minor injuries. The other truck drivers were unhurt.

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

Commentary on Chain-Reaction Crash on US-54 in Hartley County

While I say this with no intended disrespect to the truck driver who lost his life in Hartley County, statistically speaking a vehicle crashes into slowed or stopped traffic this way because its driver made a mistake at the wheel, like getting distracted or falling asleep. However, that's not the only explanation and should never be taken for granted. A careful and thorough investigation that accounts for other possibilities like truck malfunctions and poor road conditions must still be conducted in Hartley County, and no conclusions about fault should be reached before clear facts tell the story.

Even if a closer look determines the truck driver really was in error, however, that's no guarantee that his employer will agree or try to make things right. In fact, I suspect the company behind the Hartley County driver would do whatever it took to clear their name, no matter what their employee might have been up to before hitting traffic. We've worked on similar cases where they were adjusting their radios, reaching for something on the floor or between seats, digging in coolers, or even watching movies on their phones instead of looking at the road, just as a few examples.

Marvin Wirtjes, Shirley Wirtjes, Donald Diebel Jr. Killed in Hartley County, TX Chain-Reaction Crash

In those instances many victims and their families thought things were so clear-cut that seeking help wouldn't be a problem, but even when things seemed clear on paper the companies insisted something else was to blame. The excuses and foot-dragging usually go on and on, and without clear evidence and the right tools to deal with them they can be frustratingly effective.

The burden of getting and using that evidence falls to the victims and their families, and much of it likely won't be found by a standard police investigation. If key details slip through the cracks, clearly that can make problems for everyone affected should they go looking for answers or help. That's why I often recommend working with independent investigators and other allies to obtain the needed proof of what really happened. Backing up a claim with indisputable facts is key for getting victims and families what they need and deserve.

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