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Police: trucker in fatal Kentucky crash that killed 11 had been on cell phone

Police won't say whether Kenneth Laymon was talking on his phone at the exact time of the crash, which occurred on Interstate 65 in Kentucky and killed 11 people, including Laymon. (Associated Press: Daily News/JOE IMEL)

By BRETT BARROUQUERE
The Associated Press

5/6/2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An Alabama truck driver was on his cell phone sending and receiving calls leading up to a crash that killed him and 10 other people in Kentucky in March, Kentucky State Police said in a report on the wreck.

The 28-page report also says that 45-year-old Kenneth Laymon of Jasper, Ala., was driving in excess of the 70 mph speed limit and did not have his tractor-trailer under control when he crossed the median on March 26 and struck a van carrying Mennonites to a wedding in Iowa.

The report said Laymon tried braking 96 feet after entering the median, and a witness said Laymon may have been traveling 80 mph when the accident happened near Munfordville. The van showed no signs of trying to avoid Laymon's truck at that point, state police said.

The report cites cell phone use and distraction on Laymon's part as "human factors" related to the wreck. Trooper Charles Swiney, a spokesman for the state police post investigating the wreck, declined to say who Laymon was on the phone with or whether he was on the phone at the moment of the crash.

Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, told The Associated Press the agency is aware Laymon may have been on a cell phone leading up to the wreck, and is working to verify the information.

"We have not yet determined if the driver was on the cell phone at the time the tractor-trailer departed the roadway nor have we made any determination if the use of the cell phone was a factor in the accident," Knudson said.

He said NTSB investigators are also looking at highway engineering, vehicle design and operation, and other issues before reaching a conclusion, which is expected to take 12-18 months. An investigation by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration is also pending.

Also killed in the crash were John Esh, 64, owner of a vinyl-building business in Marrowbone, his 62-year-old wife, Sadie, their daughters, Rose, 40, Anna, 33, and Rachel, 20; and their son and daughter-in-law, Leroy Esh, 41, and wife Naomi, 33, and their adopted infant son, Jalen.

Two other victims in the van were Rachel's fiance, Joel Gingerich, 22, and Ashlie Michelle Kramer, 22, an Esh family friend from Franklin.

Troopers eliminated weather as a cause of the wreck, saying the road was wet from rainfall the night before, but that didn't cause the accident. Toxicology tests are still pending, but troopers said alcohol does not appear to have been a factor.

The Courier-Journal first reported about the findings.

Scott Hester, the owner of Hester Inc., which employed Laymon as a driver, said he hadn't heard the details of the report but said the fact that information is in the report "doesn't mean it's true."

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the trucking industry, is conducting a review of Hester Inc., which is based in Fayette, Ala., because of the company's safety rating and the wreck near Munfordville.

The agency gave Hester Inc. a driver safety evaluation area of 88.4 in February, based on inspections of the company's 30 drivers during the past 30 months. The agency uses a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the worst score. The company was not considered deficient in other areas, so the agency had not targeted it for a compliance review.

Federal records show the agency has conducted 194 driver inspections on Hester drivers in the 30 months before the wreck. Those inspections resulted in 21 drivers being taken out of service for log book violations, exceeding the 11-hour driving limit or the 14-hour on duty limit.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.