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Oil Truck Driver in Fatal Crash Had Other Accidents

March 01, 2000

SANTA PAULA — The driver killed when his tanker truck crashed and spilled 4,000 gallons of crude oil into Ventura County streams this week had two accidents in the past three years and worked for a company with a spate of violations and brake problems, California Highway Patrol officials said Tuesday.

The cause of the crash Monday near a remote canyon has not been determined, but investigators are examining whether a combination of road conditions, driver error and mechanical problems contributed to the accident.

The CHP said trucks operated by Westlake Village-based R.P. Cummings Inc. have been cited four times in the past year for brake problems. The company, a division of Wastec Inc., runs tanker trucks carrying petroleum from well fields scattered from Santa Maria to Santa Paula.

Although the victim, Patrick J. Hildebrand, 41, of Ventura, has not received any recent citations, he was involved in collisions--in August 1997 and January 1999, CHP spokesman Dave Webb said.

Details on those wrecks were not available Tuesday. Webb emphasized that he considered Hildebrand's driving record "pretty clean."

A spokesman for the trucking company said the brakes on the ill-fated truck had been serviced Jan. 21 and could not possibly be the cause of the accident. He blamed it on "driver error."

Meanwhile, cleanup crews Tuesday struggled to save wildlife and prevent the further spread of the light crude oil, which had sullied 20 miles of wildlife habitat in Santa Paula Creek and the Santa Clara River.

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