This story was originally published on January 2, 2015.
INDIANAPOLIS - The Call 6 Investigators have uncovered new information about a truck driver and trucking company involved in a fiery Interstate 65 crash that left a mother and father without seven of their family members.
The crash happened in August 2013 in Jasper County, between Indianapolis and Chicago, when the family was driving a Jeep Cherokee from a birthday party in Indianapolis home to Merrillville. Their vehicle was struck when they stopped for an upcoming construction zone.
GALLERY | Williams family photos
According to the crash report, Howard Stratton, of Michigan, was driving 65 mph in the center lane with his semi-truck's cruise control activated when "traffic suddenly stopped."
The crash report said Stratton "attempted to brake," but the Jeep burst into flames on impact, killing all seven people.
Judith Williams of Merrillville and her ex-husband, Gerald Williams, of Georgia, want justice for their family members and criminal charges filed against Stratton .
"They didn't have a chance under God's sun to survive that," said Gerald Williams. “It’s been so hard. For him not to be charged, or cited, or given a ticket, that’s crazy to me.”
The police investigation showed Stratton was not speeding, and he tested negative for drugs or alcohol.
Public records newly obtained by the Call 6 Investigators show Stratton was ticketed for speeding in 2007, 2009, and 2011 – two of them while in a commercial vehicle.
Records also show weeks before the deadly Indiana crash, an officer ticketed Stratton in July 2013 for passing a weigh station, and it was noted his logbook showing how long Stratton had been awake and driving was not current.
Federal records show Griffin Transportation, based in Grand Rapids, was cited five times in July 2013 for failing to keep those records current, or its drivers driving too long without resting.
Federal data also shows Griffin Transportation had 25 Hours of Service violations in the last two years, regulations meant to keep tired drivers off the roads.
The company’s Unsafe Driving record with the feds is on “alert” status, meaning the company is performing worse than most of their peers in that category.
“That is an area of concern, their unsafe driving,” said Steve Keppler, Executive Director of the non-profit Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “They’re in alert status, and that’s something that is of concern. They’re in the 70th percentile. That means 70 percent of the companies that are like them are better than them.”
Federal records show Griffin Transportation’s overall performance is better than the national average when it comes to drivers and vehicles being placed out-of-service during an inspection.
Rich Holmes, counsel for Griffin Transportation, said enforcement agency inspections have found Griffin’s vehicles and drivers to be “far superior to the national average in the industry.”
“In fact in ‘driver fitness’ they are one of the finest Motor Carriers in the U.S,” said Holmes in an email to Kenney. “In regards to ‘driver fitness’ the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration uses a scale of 0 (the best possible) to 100 (the worst possible). According to the FMCSA Griffin’s ‘Driver Fitness’ has averaged less than “1” over the last 24 months of record keeping. That is a nearly perfect score.”
Howard Stratton has not worked at Griffin Transportation since the crash, and it’s unclear if he’s still driving a semi-tractor trailer.
Kenney was unable to reach Stratton for comment.
Jasper County prosecutor Christine Haskell released a statement last year saying the office is not filing criminal charges against Stratton.
“Negligent behavior alone is not enough to obtain a criminal conviction,” read the prosecutor’s statement. “Automobile accidents caused by negligent behavior fall outside the realm of criminal prosecution."
The Call 6 Investigators filed a public records request on December 8 for the files reviewed by the prosecutor, but Kenney has yet to receive the information.
“To see this guy was traveling at highway speeds with traffic stopped in front of him, that’s negligence all day long,” said Williams.
Gerald Williams is a former truck driver of 20 years, and is familiar with the stretch of I-65 where his family was killed.
“It’s sickening to know a brother trucker took my family,” said Williams. “He was doing something irresponsible. Something had to happen to make him take his eyes off the road.”
He hopes 2015 will be the year prosecutors charge Stratton, and the year Stratton apologizes.
“If I made seven lives disappear, I would have to go to that family and say ‘I’m sorry,’” said Williams. “Our family needs closure.”