CHP: Illegal stopping creates danger on Bay Area highways

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- Big rigs are supposed to exit the highway and use a rest area when they need to stop. When they pull onto the shoulder instead, the results can be deadly.

In late February, three siblings were killed when their family car struck a big rig that was parked on Interstate 80 Westbound in Oakland. The CHP recently finalized their investigation and attribute speed, a wet roadway and wrong sized tires beyond their lifespan as factors that caused the car's driver to collide with the big rig.

The big rig driver told the CHP he had 10 minutes left of drive time and stopped on the highway's shoulder to sleep, where he was stopped for 6 hours because he thought it was a safe location.

RELATED: Family at center of tragic Emeryville crash speaks out

The CHP says that's a common problem. ABC7 News I-Team Reporter Melanie Woodrow linked up with the California Highway Patrol to investigate.

In life, there's loss you're prepared for and loss you never expected. In the last few months, Yanira Villareal has experienced both.

Three of her nine children, Eli, Sarah and Eva, died in a collision with a big rig that also critically injured her son, Aaron.

They had been driving back to the hospital during the middle of the night to see their father before he died.

"They were there that very last day. They hugged me and they kissed me. They were trying not to say goodbye to my husband. But I didn't know what we were actually doing. We were saying goodbye to each other," said Villareal.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the big rig driver had parked illegally on the shoulder of Interstate 80 Westbound in Oakland and had gone to sleep.

The CHP says it happens all too often.

"Check that out," said CHP Officer Brandon Correia during an overnight ride-along.

"You can't park anywhere on the freeway whether you're a car or a big rig," explained Correia.

"This is not a good spot to be parked," he continued.

ABC7 News was with Officer Correia in Hercules on Interstate 80 at Highway 4 when we saw trucker Todd Hubbard parked in the left-hand center divide. He was sleeping.

"I know you're trying to be convenient for your job, but this is not a good spot to park," Officer Correia told Hubbard.

RELATED: Siblings killed in Emeryville crash were on way to visit father in hospital

ABC7 News asked Hubbard why he parked where he was.

"I pulled over here because my job is right there in the morning, right across the intersection. So coming from Stockton, it makes no sense to crash for two or three hours and wake up when I can crash here and watch a movie for five hours," Hubbard explained.

ABC7 News asked Hubbard if he realized it was a dangerous place to park.

"Actually, I pulled here before," said Hubbard.

Officer Correia didn't cite the trucker.

"It's not always enforcement that we have to do, sometimes it can be education," said Correia.

While on Southbound 680 just past Sycamore Valley Road, ABC7 News saw another parked big rig.

"If you're parked and just racked out, yeah, you're not supposed to be parked on the freeway," Correia told the driver.

The trucker said he had to stop because he had driven too many hours. It's a common problem, the CHP says -- they see trucks parked here often.

Not long after the Villareal crash, a driver called 911 to report a big rig parked in the exact same spot on Southbound 680 just past Sycamore Valley Road.

"It looks like he's parked there for the night, no flashers, no lights, no triangles, nothing, it seems very dangerous," said the driver to dispatch.

Later, during the ride-along, we approached the Bay Bridge heading into San Francisco.

Inside a vehicle, we found Stockton resident Antonio Flores napping before a day of work.

"I understand you're probably trying to get some shuteye," said Correia.

We asked the driver if he realized it wasn't a great place to park. He said Officer Correia was right.

In just two hours, we had encountered three illegally parked vehicles on Bay Area highways.

Chris Turner is the Director of Crash and Data Programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

"It is absolutely an issue," Turner told ABC7 News.

"It's been an issue for a long time," he continued.

The issue not so much illegal parking but what could happen because of illegal parking.

Video from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows what's called an "underride crash."

The danger is so widespread that it prompted East Bay Congressman Mark DeSaulnier to co-sponsor the "Stop Underrides Act." It would require guards on the sides and front of a truck similar to the ones on the backs of trucks. They make a difference.

"To the people who lose loved ones and obviously the people who lost their lives, if it's preventable then we should do it," said Rep. DeSaulnier.

And yet as politicians and law enforcement work to make our roads safer, it's too late for the Villareal family, still recovering from the grief of their unexpected loss.

Aaron, the sibling who survived the crash, is now out of the hospital and recovering. The trucking company Rogue Transportation LLC has settled with the Villareal family.

Kevin Cholakian, the attorney for the trucking company and its driver tells ABC7 News in an emailed statement:

"As discussed, the civil case brought against Rogue Transportation and its driver arising out of the accident that occurred on February 28, 2019 has been resolved by way of settlement.
There were issues on both sides of this unfortunate accident, including the location of where the truck was parked, and the speed of the vehicle that lost control and crashed into the truck. Hopefully, this resolution will allow some closure for the parties."


Brian Brandt, the attorney for the Villareal family writes in an emailed statement:

"As with virtually every motor vehicle accident there are often multiple factors contributing to the crash. In this tragic instance, although the passenger vehicle may have traveled onto the shoulder of the freeway due to speed, the fact remains that no one would have died but for the big rig truck being parked illegally on the shoulder in the darkness of night. The shoulders of our highways are designed as "clear recovery zones" for when vehicles may leave the travel lanes for whatever reason and which is why it is illegal to park vehicles there unless there is an emergency. It is the families' hope that holding the trucking company accountable will raise awareness to this danger and help prevent needless fatalities in the future."

The attorney for the truck driver says the CHP cited his client for a non-emergency stop on the freeway shoulder.

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