Valdosta Daily Times

July 16, 2013

Fourth person dies after rollover crash

The Associated Press

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Marshall County officials say a fourth person was pronounced dead Monday in a rollover crash near Guntersville.

County Coroner Marlon Killion said 19-year-old John Lawson of Guntersville, 21-year-old Blake Keener, of Albertville, 18-year-old Ruben Pacheco, and an unidentified 13-year-old girl were killed in the crash Sunday afternoon.

Authorities say Lawson was driving at the time of the accident.

State troopers have said the pickup truck was carrying more than 10 children and flipped on U.S. highway 431. Witnesses told police the children spilled from the truck as it began flipping, and the truck burst into flames soon afterward.

Authorities say all of the people riding in the truck’s cab and bed were ejected in the crash.

The cause of the crash is unclear.

The youths apparently were on their way for an afternoon swim. Killian said all were wearing swimwear.

Killian has served as county coroner since 2000 and was assistant coroner from 1982 to 2000. He said he could only recall a couple of wrecks that had as many victims.

“This is one the worst ones I’ve seen, with that many fatalities and injuries in the same accident. I had one other in the mid-80s where there were nine fatalities in a head-on collision,” he said.

The accident on U.S. 431, about a mile north of Alabama 79 occurred at about 2:40 p.m. State troopers closed both northbound and southbound lanes for hours while they worked the scene.

State lawmakers passed a law in 2006 requiring anyone under the age of 15 to be restrained while they’re riding in a vehicle. State troopers said they believe the law would prohibit teens from riding unrestrained in the back of a pickup truck.

Over the years there have been various efforts to pass legislation to make it illegal for children to ride in the back of pickup trucks.

One of the most prominent was spearheaded by Republican U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers, a member of the Alabama House from 1994 to 2002.

Rogers said Monday he has continued the fight in Washington trying to put language in a federal transportation bill requiring states to prohibit children from riding in the back of pickup trucks to receive federal money. Rogers said Alabama is one of 19 states without a law restricting children from riding in the bed of pickup trucks.

Concerning the Guntersville accident, Rogers said, “That’s exactly what I was trying to prevent,” when he pushed his proposed legislation in the Alabama Legislature.

Republican Rep. Wes Long of Guntersville called Sunday’s accident “just awful.”

He said he’d be willing to look at legislation to further regulate children riding in the back of pickup trucks.

“I’d support anything that would make it safer for kids on the highway,” Long said.

Gadsden resident Chuck Harrison told the truck passed him just before the crash and looked like it was carrying children who had gone swimming. Harrison said the children spilled from the back of the truck as it began flipping on the highway.

Guntersville is about 35 miles northwest of Gadsden.