Mack Trucks

Commercial truck drivers will soon be under a more watchful eye as the Oakhurst California Highway Patrol plans to increase its enforcement efforts May 1, Public Information Officer Kaci Lutz said.

“An event with a logging truck could be catastrophic, no doubt about it,” Lutz said. “At the end of the day, it’s our job to make sure the roadways are safe.”

The increased patrols aren’t directly related to three truck crashes that took place in a single week on Highway 49 from April 5-12, which forced brief to extended closures and long delays. Instead, Lutz said May 1 marks the official start of the commercial logging season, meaning more drivers and more trucks on the road.

“There’s heightened awareness this year, as there has been in recent years, to go with the tree mortality crisis,” Lutz said. “So with the official start of logging season, we’re obviously going to look for extra enforcement on the trucks in this area.”

To that end, Lutz said the recent addition of Sgt. Chris Finnegan, and his six years of experience in commercial enforcement, will prove a valuable asset.

“He’s very much an asset in other ways as a sergeant,” Lutz said, “but especially on the commercial end given his background.”

Lutz said the primary problem behind the rise in truck crashes may be an influx of drivers from out of the county or state, who aren’t familiar with Mountain Area roads.

“Those are the ones we’re typically seeing involved in these collisions,” Lutz said. “The truckers from here, who are local drivers, are not a problem.”

All three drivers in last week’s wrecks were from outside Madera County.

On April 5, Jonathan Costello, 28 of Bakersfield, crashed into an embankment near Harmony Lane possibly due, as he told officers, to a cable that snapped and caused a load of logs to shift and throw his truck off balance.

April 10, Justin Bennett, 30 of Missouri, told officers his brakes gave out, causing him to barrel off the highway near Knickerbocker Road. That forced closures of the highway as well as extended one-way traffic controls.

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By Mark Evan Smith
Sierra Star (Oakhurst, Calif.)


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