The New Mexico Department of Transportation is investigating an automobile accident in which a tire sheared off a trailer and smashed through the windshield of an oncoming vehicle, killing a Durango man.
The agency is expected to determine this week whether the trailer was up to standards for a commercial vehicle. It was an eight-wheeled trailer, 30 feet long, hauling a John Deere backhoe.
The accident occurred about 1 p.m. Friday on U.S. Highway 550, about six miles north of Aztec.
No criminal charges will be filed against the driver of the truck pulling the trailer, said Tom Asbe, a San Juan County, N.M., sheriff's deputy who investigated the accident.
"There's really no enforcement action for us to take," he said Monday. "It's kind of one of those freak accidents. There's nothing criminal for us to work off of."
Ron Newton, 44, an employee of Brainstorm Internet in Durango, died at the scene.
Phil Bryson of Durango was driving the BMW sport utility vehicle hit by the tire.
As Bryson and Newton traveled northbound, a southbound truck lost two left tires off its trailer.
One tire jumped a concrete lane divider and went through the windshield of the BMW, striking Newton, the front-seat passenger.
Newton had a wife, Dana, and two sons, Daniel and Stephen.
"Our prayers and our thoughts are with them," Bryson said Monday.
Bryson is the owner of Brainstorm and developed the Crossroads building on Main Avenue.
Newton worked for Brainstorm for only a couple of months. Before that, he worked for FastTrack Communications, a telecommunications company that serves northwest New Mexico and western Colorado.
Asbe said two wheels on the left side of the trailer sheared off for unknown reasons. Both tires were on the same axle and had heavy-duty rims, like those found on a truck. One of the tires hit the windshield dead on, he said.
"It came right through the windshield," he said. "There was very little damage above the windshield or below it."
The truck pulling the trailer was driven by Ronnie Jacquez, 34, of Bloomfield, N.M. It was a 1-ton welding truck owned by Moberg Welding of Bloomfield.
Ron Melancon of Richmond, Va., who operates a Web site called DangerousTrailers.org, is on a one-man campaign to improve safety regulations nationwide when it comes to utility trailers.
He is a former emergency services technician volunteer who has responded to accidents involving faulty trailers. He has also been involved in an accident involving a trailer.
There are very few regulations nationwide for trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds, he said in a phone interview Monday. He said he's been investigating trailer accidents for six years.
In 2007, there were 459 fatal crashes and 21,775 injury accidents involving a passenger vehicle pulling a trailer in the United States, he said.
"I just don't know who has to be killed before we do something," Melancon said. "If I don't do this, who's going to take my place?"