A trucker whose rig slammed into slowed traffic Saturday on the Santa Ana Freeway, killing three people and injuring 10 others, had been reported 15 minutes earlier for "erratic, reckless" driving, but a California Highway Patrol officer said the CHP was too busy to respond.
An unidentified motorist who reported the truck driver gave the same license plate number and company name as that of the truck involved in the accident and told a CHP dispatcher that the rig was traveling south on the freeway, roughly at the Orange County-Los Angeles County line, CHP spokesman Paul Caldwell said. The call came in at 2:55 p.m. Saturday, Caldwell said. The accident happened at 3:10 p.m.
The motorist apparently had stopped at a pay telephone booth off the freeway to report the truck, Caldwell said.
However, the CHP's "two to four" units on patrol between the Orange County line and Santa Ana that afternoon were busy investigating accidents that had occurred during earlier rain showers, Caldwell said. He did not have details on where those accidents were located.
He said it is CHP policy to check out reckless driving reports if a unit is not otherwise tied up. On Saturday, however, rain kept patrol officers running from one accident to another, Caldwell said.
"We (did) broadcast that information over the air alerting all units," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the CHP deploys as many officers as it can to patrol the area freeways and has added officers specifically for truck inspection. Had a patrol unit been available when the call came in Saturday, Caldwell said, the officer would have waited at some point along the freeway to see if he could find the reported reckless driver.
Caldwell said CHP officers are using the information from that motorist's call in their investigation of truck driver Jackie Wayne Dillard, 55, of Fresno. Pending further investigation, Dillard was released from custody Tuesday after tests showed that he was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
Caldwell said that the caller did not give his name, and that officers were trying to identify his voice from dispatch tapes so they can get more details about the reported reckless driving.
Caldwell also asked that Saturday's caller or anyone with information concerning the caller contact the CHP at (714) 547-8311.
Dillard, who was on his way to deliver a load of apples from Fresno to La Habra, was traveling south about 50 m.p.h. on the Santa Ana Freeway when the crash occurred in Santa Ana at 3:10 p.m. just south of the Garden Grove Freeway interchange. The trucker did not slow down as his tractor-trailer rig approached slowed traffic, CHP officers have said. The CHP did not account for the trucker being many miles south of his destination.
The rig careened into as many as 10 vehicles, killing three people in the same car. They were Bartolo Lozano, 66, of Fremont, his brother, Antonio Lozano, 69, of Tijuana, and Antonio Lozano's wife, Maria, 59.
Dillard was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving and manslaughter and ordered held in Orange County Jail. But he was ordered released on his own recognizance Tuesday after the CHP failed to file charges against him, said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Richard J. Olson.
Dillard was to be arraigned Tuesday in Orange County Central Municipal Court in Santa Ana, but Caldwell said the arraignment had to be postponed because officers had not completed their investigation. He said that the investigation probably will be completed in the next two weeks and that results are awaited on laboratory tests on whether Dillard was driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.
Those injured in the accident were transported to UCI Medical Center in Orange and Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. All the injuries were described as minor, with the victims treated and released the same. Dillard was not injured in the collision.
The Rosary was recited Tuesday night in Anaheim for the family killed in the crash. Bartolo Lozano's body was being sent to Fremont, where services are scheduled Friday. The bodies of Antonio and Maria Lozano were to be sent to Mexico for burial, with services scheduled for Monday.