- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - A teenager who died behind the wheel of a water tanker at a Southern Oregon wildfire last year had limited experience and was handling an overweight rig with inadequate brakes, investigators say.

Firefighters who saw the crash said they smelled hot brakes and saw smoke coming from the rear of the truck as it gathered speed and Jesse Trader tried to keep it under control on a downhill stretch.

The truck hit an embankment and rolled, killing the 19-year-old who had graduated a year earlier from South Albany High School.

A report from state and federal agencies said Trader was on his first documented run with the privately owned water tender on Aug. 6. The report said that about a week before, Trader had gotten a commercial driver’s license allowing him to drive a tanker.

The report came from two federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, and the Oregon Department of Forestry, The Grants Pass Daily News (https://bit.ly/1qYrTIR) reported.

The report said its purpose was “accident prevention and learning - not to identify and assign blame.”

A bureau spokesman, Jim Whittington, said firefighting agencies wouldn’t impose any penalties, and there would be no disciplinary action involved in inspection deficiencies the report identified. He said he didn’t know of any enforcement action by the state Department of Transportation. Calls to the agency’s spokesmen were not returned Thursday.

The 1966 truck was operated by County Fire of Merlin, partly owned by Trader’s uncle, Dan Trader, the paper said. Ace Earthmoving of Grants Pass was listed as owner.

The report said the tanker had rear brakes only, and it proposes that tankers on future fires have brakes on all axles, as well as compression engine brakes, devices that allow a diesel engine to release compressed air from the cylinders to slow itself.

The report said the tanker was put to work on the fire even though records from the vendor showed its fully loaded weight was 55,320 pounds.

Fire contracting rules forbid trucks above the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight, which was 50,000 pounds in the case of the tanker, the report said.

But it said a document that would have shown the difference wasn’t submitted to the contracting office. Whittington said no wrongdoing is suspected with the half-century old vehicle.

“It wasn’t any kind of cover-up or anything,” Whittington said.

Investigators couldn’t determine conclusively whether Trader wore a seat belt but said he was not in one when extricated from the vehicle, Whittington said.


Information from: Daily Courier, https://www.thedailycourier.com

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