Prosecutors will not file charges against the dump truck driver who police said collided into a car and triggered a fatal chain reaction crash behind a congressional motorcade in Maryland in January, according to records obtained by the News4 I-Team.
Although there is suspicion the driver was talking on the phone at the time of the crash, prosecutors said they lacked evidence to make a case against him. Police records and prosecutors also cite witness statements, which said the congressional motorcade itself was a major factor in the tragedy.
The Jan. 25 crash near a ramp connecting Interstate 70 and Interstate 270 in Frederick County killed a Gaithersburg man, injured others and created a spectacle of flames and fire on the busy highway. The accident occurred as police blocked highway traffic to escort a motorcade of buses carrying U.S. senators to a retreat in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Police records also said the motorcade itself was nearly struck during the crash.
As traffic stopped to allow the motorcade to pass, a dump truck driver carrying more than 66,000 pounds of material failed to stop, according to the police report. His truck crashed into and destroyed an SUV driven by Jacob Jackson, 46, of Gaithersburg. Jackson’s car was pushed into another truck and exploded in flames. Jackson was killed in the crash. The truck driver and another driver suffered injuries.
A 142-page Maryland State Police reconstruction report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act includes a series of statements from witnesses who said the police motorcade contributed to the crash.
One witness, a 64-year-old woman from Myrtle Beach, S.C., told police, “Motorcycle police may have been having traffic move over too quickly for all cars coming up to slow down and move over.” The woman declined requests for comment from the I-Team.
Another witness to the crash, a 36-year-old man, told police, “The way they shut down the roadway with rolling stops seemed inappropriate. (It) caused a lot of people to slam brakes.”
The Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office investigated the driver of the dump truck but decided not to file charges. In a letter to state police, the state’s attorneys’ office said, “We are unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (the driver) was grossly negligent in the operation of his motor vehicle. Therefore, it is my opinion that no criminal or traffic charges are warranted.”
A spokesman for the office told the I-Team the witness statements questioning the safety of the motorcade were a factor in the decision not to prosecute.
In a statement to the I-Team, U.S. Capitol Police declined to detail whether it was considering changes to how it operates motorcades to protect members of Congress.
“We don’t comment on our internal policies or procedures,” spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.
A witness statement to Maryland State Police said the second bus of the motorcade was nearly struck in the accident. According to the statement from a 30-year-old man from Washington, D.C., “One of the dump trucks veered left cutting in between the motorcade directly in front of Bus 2.”
The Maryland State Police investigation into the accident noted the possibility of a brake failure on the dump truck that triggered the crash.
A search warrant filed by state police sought a judge’s permission to search the history of cellphone use by the driver of the dump truck. The police reports obtained by the I-Team said the driver was suspected of talking on his phone at the time of impact, but there is no evidence provided in the police reports or by prosecutors showing whether the phone was in a Bluetooth setting or being used as a handheld device. The distinction would impact prosecution, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office told the I-Team.
The driver of the dump truck told the I-Team he was “moving on with his life,” before disconnecting from a phone call.
Investigators estimate the driver had 10 seconds, spanning 880 feet, to notice and brake upon seeing stopped traffic from the motorcade, the police report said.
Fuel leaks from the vehicles in the crash fueled an enormous fire and caused the dump truck to explode, according to the police records. According to his statements to police, the dump truck driver said he experienced brake problems moments before impact.
Friends of Jackson said he was a community leader who helped organize Pride events with the LGBT community in Frederick, Maryland. According to police records, Jackson’s family in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, saw footage of the crash on television before learning Jackson died in the accident.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats from Maryland, offered condolences to the victim's family in a joint statement after the January crash. They traveled to the retreat in their own vehicles and were not part of the motorcade.