Mechanical Failure Caused Crash That Killed Six Near East Helena [AUDIO]
The crash on June 19 that killed a family of five along with the Three Forks Fire Chief on Highway 12 near East Helena was caused by a mechanical failure in the fire truck, officials have determined.
At a press conference in Helena on Tuesday, Lt. Colonel Greg Watson, Deputy Chief of the Montana Highway Patrol, revealed the results of an investigation that lasted over two months.
"On June 19th, at approximately 9 pm, a two-vehicle crash occurred near milepost 54 on Highway 12, southeast of East Helena," Watson said. "The crash involved a 2002 International fire truck from the Three Forks Fire Department and a 1997 Chevrolet pick-up truck. The fire truck was traveling eastbound on its way to Three Forks. The pick-up was traveling westbound. Tragically, all six individuals in the vehicles died in the crash."
Watson revealed what investigators determined to be the cause of the crash.
"Our investigation has concluded that a mechanical failure in the front drive train of the fire truck caused the driver to lose control and suddenly veer to the left, across the westbound (oncoming) lane of traffic," he said. "The driver of the oncoming pick-up truck veered to his right in an attempt to avoid hitting the fire truck, but was unable to do so. The fire truck and pick-up collided on the highway’s westbound shoulder. The impact ruptured a diesel fuel tank on the passenger side of the fire truck, which resulted in the wide dispersal of diesel fuel that caught fire soon after impact. Both vehicles were engulfed in flames."
Watson indicated the cause of death for all six victims of the crash.
"The coroner’s report indicates that the driver of the fire truck, Three Forks Fire Department Chief Todd Rummel, died from smoke inhalation while unconscious," Watson said. "The driver and passengers in the pickup – Matthew Boegli, Crystal Ross, and the children Breighton, Madison, and Peighton Boegli – died upon impact from blunt force trauma. Indications are that the two adults in the pick-up were wearing seat belts, but the three children were not using seat belts or any type of child-safety seats."
Watson expanded on the mechanical failure in the fire truck that caused the crash.
"Regarding the mechanical failure in the fire truck, we have identified several parts of the front drive train that failed," he said. "Though we have been unable to determine which of these parts failed first, we do know that the failures occurred prior to impact and caused the driver of the fire truck to lose control of the vehicle. We also know that, prior to the crash, the fire truck had been in Helena undergoing maintenance to its water system, which is completely independent of the vehicle drive train."
Watson thanked the team of investigators for their efforts.
Communications Director for the Montana Department of Justice John Barnes, said the families of the victims are free to use the information in the report as they see fit.
"The investigation answered all the questions that we had regarding the crash, however, it also created more questions that undoubtedly the families of the victims are trying to answer, and that's why the parts failed," Barnes said. "We do know there was a parts failure, but we don't know which parts failed first, that led to a cascading failure of parts that culminated in the driver of the fire truck to lose control of the vehicle."
In May, a jury in Polson awarded a Missoula family $248 million in real and punitive damages after a front end part failed in a Hyundai Tiburon that led to the deaths of two cousins and an Arlee woman. The jury found that Hyundai acted in 'actual malice'.