James Goins was tragically killed in Davie, Florida Friday morning, when his motorcycle was split in two by a dump truck driven by James Mills, of Fort Lauderdale. So far, neither driver has been blamed for the crash by police.
However, the investigation is ongoing and presents one glaring piece of information that bothers me more than anything else: The maintenance history of the dump truck.
According to Capt. Dale Engle of the Davie Police Department, the dump truck was not safe for public roads and “had problems before the crash.” As a result, police decided to “deadline” the truck and take it off the roadways.
However, before we understand what a massive clue that piece of information is, it pays to understand how two very important factors will interact to tell us what happened in this case. Specifically, I am talking about the role forensic evidence will play in explaining causation.
What is Forensic Evidence? I know you think you know…
Time for a crash course in law.
First of all, even though most people think they know what they are talking about because they watch a lot of CSI or Law and Order, the truth is, “evidence” is an extremely complicated subject few know much about. In fact, there is an entire book of laws written on the subject and it is a semester long class taught in every law school in America. It is also a major part of the Bar Exam. In short, the topic of evidence is big and complicated.
Second, the concept of “forensic” evidence simply refers to evidence that is to be used in court. When most people think of forensic evidence, they think of “trace” evidence – the kind of evidence that is invisible to the naked eye, such as DNA, fingerprints, or gunpowder residue. People think this because that is what is used on television to make legal dramas entertaining. In reality, however, forensic evidence is very broad and includes any evidence at all to be used in court.
What is Causation?
Time for chapter two of your crash course in law.
If you want to understand what happened in any accident, whether we are talking about an industrial disaster, a plane crash, or a motorcycle accident, the ultimate question comes down to a concept referred to as causation.
Causation concerns all the things that happened or failed to happen to make a certain outcome occur. It is that series of dominoes leading to the last domino’s fall.
For instance, the May 1996 crash of ValueJet Flight 592 was determined to be caused by chemical oxygen generators that were illegally stored in the plane’s cargo hold. Having been stored without their safety caps on, the generators caught fire and caused a chain reaction that resulted in the plane nose-diving into the Florida Everglades.
There were no survivors.
Thus, the primary objective of investigators in any crash or accident is to find and analyze forensic evidence to determine causation – such as the illegally stored chemical oxygen generators.
What Caused James Goins’ Accident?
When it comes to the motorcycle accident that took Jimmy Goins’ life, investigators are still trying to figure it out. In some cases, causation is obvious. If eye witnesses see a car driving the wrong way up a street and crash head-on into another vehicle, causation isn’t hard to figure out.
However, in other cases, causation is hidden in the clues and is not that obvious – but that does not mean it cannot be determined… you just have to follow what the clues tell you.
When it comes to Jimmy’s case, there problematic history of this truck sticks out most. What prior problems did it suffer from?
- Were the brakes faulty?
- Did the steering have safety issues?
- Were the wheels damaged?
- Did the truck have bald tires that blew out?
- Did the truck have re-treaded tires that separated from overuse?
- Was the truck overloaded with heavy cargo?
- Has this truck caused other accidents in the past?
- Were its past safety issues ignored and allowed to worsen?
There are a million different questions that need to be answered. In fact, this may not even be a case about a driver that did anything wrong. This may be a case about a company that failed to maintain its truck. In fact, the truck could have had a safety issue that the driver was not even aware of.
That would explain why police did not fault either driver for causing the crash.
Consider this: Lets say I am a truck driver on my first day at a new job or I work at a company that assigns me a new vehicle every day or lets say I was only assigned this vehicle a short while ago – can I be faulted for a safety issue with the truck that is not obvious and only known to the company’s management responsible for maintaining the truck?
If all I do is drive the truck, can I really be blamed for causing an accident that resulted from someone else’s failure to maintain the truck safely? In fact, I might even be a victim too if I were to get injured.
Preservation of Evidence
Because we do not have access to the actual truck, its maintenance records, or other important information, all we can do is speculate. That is why the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT thing to do at this stage is to make sure all evidence is preserved.
Law enforcement and attorneys representing James Goins’ family have to immediately give formal legal notice to the owners and operators of that truck that they are to preserve all evidence immediately. This includes all maintenance records, crash history, repairs, driver logs, complaints, owner history, registration, traffic citations involving this truck, as well as the truck’s GPS data and the driver’s history.
Like I said before, I may be wrong about this truck – maybe there is a much simpler explanation about what happened, but my trial lawyer nose smells something fishy here.
More than anything else, I am bothered that 1) the dump truck was “deadlined” because it wasn’t safe for public roads, and 2) that it had problems before the crash.
WHAT WERE THOSE PROBLEMS?
Sure, the truck could be getting deadlined because it was totaled in the crash – which is hard to believe considering it is a garbage truck that hit a small motorcycle. Nonetheless, it could have sustained enough damage, strictly from this accident, to warrant taking it offline – I just find that suggestion very, very suspicious.
Bottom line – this case begs for much deeper investigation. At a minimum, lawyers have GOT to send legal notices to preserve evidence. I cannot stress this one factor enough. Without preservation, evidence that proves what caused this accident can be deliberately “lost” in an effort to avoid liability or criminal charges.
In any event, it is extremely sad that yet another rider has lost his life on Florida’s roadways. I follow these cases closely and sometimes it seems like more people die from driving than any other cause.
My condolences go out to James Goins’ family. This is a very sad case, considering how young he was.
We will be following up as this investigation continues…