I-Team Finds Trailer Accidents on the Rise

View Comments ()
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Trailers can become the deadliest things drivers encounter on the highway, police say. The News 4 I-Team's Tisha Thompson shows why something that costs less than $2 can be the difference between life and death. (Published Monday, Jul 28, 2014)

    Trailers can become the deadliest things drivers encounter on the highway, police say, and a triple-fatal Chesapeake Bay Bridge crash led to a Maryland law regulating how they are used.

    Randy Orff was the father who just seemed to know how to do everything.

    "Every day was a learning experience with him," his son Brandon Orff said. "Even up to how to hook up a trailer. Anything that you can think of that you're not taught in school or out of a book, that was the kind of thing I got from my father."

    Brandon said his father was always worried about safety. Randy was the guy who put out the orange cones on the highway, who kept you safe by setting up that arrow sign telling you to move over a lane. Pulling a trailer was part of Randy’s job, which required him to drive home every day over the Bay Bridge.

    His wife, Missy Orff, said she was watching Oprah Winfrey when “it came on as a news break that there was a terrible accident on the Bay Bridge."

    She said when she saw the helicopter video on TV, she knew the mangled red pickup truck. She knew what the red tarp meant.

    "I screamed,” Missy said. “I literally screamed and jumped out of the chair and ran."

    A police investigation found Randy's truck flipped and flew through the air so violently, it smashed into a tractor-trailer, two trucks and a Honda, killing the driver inside.

    Investigators said Randy tried to swerve out of the way of a homemade trailer, which popped off its hitch and slammed into his red pickup.

    But Randy wasn't alone. His 19-year-old son Jonathan was also inside.

    "He was my baby,” Missy said. “I always called him Jonathan. My Jonathan."

    Missy said her son always wanted to be just like his dad -- hunting, fishing and volunteering as a firefighter. Jonathan had just started working at his dad's company three months earlier.

    They got up together, they worked together and they died together.

    "It was a nightmare. At times it still is. There are still days it seems like it just happened," Missy said.

    The News4 I-Team found accidents involving trailers are on the rise, up 75 percent in Maryland in the last reported three years, according to Maryland State Police records.

    We found accidents linked with boat, camper, mobile home and auto trailers.

    But the vast majority involve utility trailers like the one involved in a fatal accident on Interstate 95 in May. The trailer stayed on the interstate, but the driver died when his pickup was flung off a bridge near the Patapsco State Park in Howard County.

    The driver pulling the trailer that killed Randy and Jonathan Orff was never charged. Maryland didn’t have any laws to punish him for not properly hooking up his trailer -- until Missy went to Annapolis to change them.

    To show what the law now requires, the I-Team went out with Maryland State Police on a surprise inspection of hundreds of commercial vehicles.

    They pulled a landscaping trailer out of service because the lawnmowers weren't strapped down. A very large trailer full of furniture was pulled because the driver didn't have the right type of license to pull something so large.

    First Sgt. Jonathan Griffin said every trailer must have working taillights and the right size ball to connect the trailer to the vehicle.

    "Most commonly they'll have a trailer that has a 2-inch ball and the vehicle has an 1 7/8-inch ball,” he explained. “When they hit the bump, the locking device is too big and it will just pop off."

    He said safety chains are required to keep the trailer connected in case it pops off its hitch. A pin is required to lock the hitch in place.

    That's what was missing on the trailer that killed Randy and Jonathan.

    "Was the safety pin,” Missy said. “Something that costs $1.79. That's it. That's it."

    Missy said the day the governor signed her bill, she went to where she buried her husband and her son to tell them.

    "I let them know that I did it. I said I put on my big girl pants and I did it," she said. "He'd be proud of me. I know he would."