News

FATALITY

Kimberly Coordes, 50, died Friday after truck tire crashed through her windshield on Hwy. 401 east of London

By Dale Carruthers, Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

A scourge from the past on Ontario’s super-highways — fly-away truck wheels — killed an Oxford County woman on the Hwy. 401 near London on Friday, when a large tire crashed through her windshield.

Two tires came off a eastbound transport, one bouncing over the highway median before striking the car travelling near the Putnam scales about 7:30 a.m., police said.

Kimberly Coordes, 50, of South-West Oxford Township, died at the scene.

A generation ago, fly-away wheels from transport trucks were such a menace on provincial highways, triggering frightening headlines and a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of two drivers, that the province took sweeping steps to crack down, even creating a new offence for flying vehicle parts — no defence can be offered — with a maximum penalty of $50,000.

Friday’s crash, and the random nature of the threat on busy highways, brought memories flooding back for the sister of another woman killed in similar circumstances nearly 21 years ago.

“My empathy goes out to this woman’s family — you don’t want anyone to experience it,” said Beth Worona, whose sister Angela Worona was killed by a flying truck wheel on the 401 in the Toronto area in 1995. “What we felt . . . it’s horrifying in the beginning. It’s a nightmare that you can’t believe, but no matter how much you shake your head, it’s not going to go away.”

It was not immediately clear where Coordes was headed when the Friday-morning disaster happened, but the collision occurred near the township where she lives.

The truck kept driving after the tires flew off — the other one didn’t hit anything — until police pulled it over near Drumbo, almost 30 km away from the scene, police said.

Truck safety on 400-series highways was thrust under the spotlight in the 1990s after a rash of road deaths caused by flying transport wheels, including four in a single year.

The government responded in 1997 by cracking down on flying truck tires, introducing daily inspection requirements for drivers and beefing up on-road inspections by police and transportation officials.

A tough amendment that later took effect under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act made flying vehicle parts an absolute liability.

Since then, flying tires have been blamed for just nine deaths, according to the Ministry of Transportation.

“In the vast majority of cases, it’s completely preventable,” said Ontario Safety League chief executive Brian Patterson.

Patterson credits a joint effort by the police and province for making Ontario’s highways some of the safest in the world.

“In my view, if we didn’t have the level of enforcement that’s provided in this province, we’d be in a lot worse shape.”

But Worona said enforcement has been slipping since the tougher measures, adopted partly due to advocacy by her family after her sister’s death, were first put in place.

She often drives the 400-series highways between her Whitby home and Windsor, and says she regularly passes inspection stations that are closed.

“The sanctions were better, but there are more transport trucks on the highways . . . there is an increased amount of transport traffic and (there) should be increased vigilance,” she said.

“When this happens and I think about how I drive by stations and see stations with no one manning them. I’ve see more transport accidents this year than I have in years before,” she said.

“The general public is just driving to where they are going, they shouldn’t pay for it with their lives.”

The ministry conducts 110,000 commercial truck inspections a year.

In the past five years, there were 577 cases of wheels coming off vehicles.

Reconstruction specialists are investigating Friday’s deadly collision.

“They’ve towed the truck to a compound where they’re going to be doing mechanical analysis, and they’re going to be looking at all the parts on the truck,” said OPP Const. Lisa Narancsik. “They’ll determine how the tire(s) came off.”

A witness called police with a description of the transport and its licence plate number, said Narancsik, adding the driver didn’t realize he lost two tires. Investigators interviewed the driver. No charges have been laid yet.

Police closed the westbound lanes for several hours, snarling rush-hour traffic, before reopening the road around 11:30 a.m.

dale.carruthers@sunmedia.ca

jennifer.obrien@sunmedia.ca

FLYING TRUCK WHEELS

On Ontario highways:

2010: 47

2011: 56

2012: 97

2013: 147

2014: 148

2015: 82

Source: Ministry of Transportation