News

Tie it before you drive it

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Maria Federici couldn’t see the pickup truck with its load of yard waste, an old barbecue, ladder, scrap wood and lawnmower tied down with rope, cargo straps and covered with a cargo net last Thursday.

But Federici, and what happened to her, was the reason the truck was there and why it’s now a crime to drive in Washington without securing loads in cars, trucks and trailers.

Two years ago, the beautiful and promising young woman was driving home late from work when a two-foot-by-six-foot board fell out of a trailer in front of her, smashed through the windshield of her car and crushed her face.

She is blind and has had numerous surgeries to reconstruct her face.

Despite early medical predictions she would die or be severely disabled, Federici was standing in a parking lot at Qwest Field last week, surrounded by news reporters and photographers and law enforcement officials, asking people to secure the loads in their trucks and trailers.

“Think that your relative is behind you,” Federici said.

If that’s not enough, police can ticket drivers anywhere from $194 to $5,000 and jail time is possible for violators, said Capt. Steve Burns of the State Patrol.

Starting last Saturday and continuing to April 30, state troopers and the King County Sheriff Department will focus on secure loads. Burns said 24 troopers will be at waste stations around King County, watching drivers coming in with loads and ticketing those who haven’t tied them down.

The Legislature passed House Bill 1478 in 2005, making it a gross misdemeanor to drive a vehicle with an unsecure load that falls out and hurts someone. The driver can be cited for a misdemeanor if the load damages another person’s property.

The driver towing the trailer in front of Federici two years ago received only a traffic ticket because state law at the time didn’t have a stiffer penalty.

“My daughter couldn’t be a victim because there was no crime,” said Robin Abel, Federici’s mother.

Federici has since filed a lawsuit against the company that rented the trailer to the driver.

King County Executive Ron Sims encouraged people to make sure the loads in their vehicles are tied down.

“Doggone it. Just secure your load. It’s really simple,” Sims said.

He called Federici “strong” and a “fighter.”

The demonstration truck at last Thursday’s media event was from the county’s Parks and Recreation Department. Gary Brown, an employee with the department, said it took him about 10 minutes to strap the load down using straps, ropes and a cargo net. The cost of all the tie-downs came to around $30, except for a heavy-duty chain and ratchet that was about $60.

According to officials, more than 25,000 accidents across North America are the result of litter being dumped purposefully or falling out of vehicles. Almost 100 of those accidents are fatal.

In Washington, about 350 accidents on highways are because of road debris, noted the state’s Department of Transportation.

In January this year, a man driving on Interstate 5 in Tacoma was killed when a tarp from a tractor-trailer fell onto the roadway. The man swerved to avoid the tarp and his car was hit by a large tow truck pulling an empty passenger bus. A young child in the car was critically injured.

Abel called the year-old state law on loads “justice” for her daughter, and she asked people to take the extra time to make sure what they are hauling isn’t going to fall onto the road.

The county and the state Department of Ecology have started a litter campaign with Abel and Federici’s foundation to encourage people to secure the loads in their vehicles. The agencies are providing money to the deputies and state troopers to focus on litter and unsecured loads.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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