I-Team: Flaw in system left dangerous trucker licensed before deadly crash
ROCKLAND (WGME) -- The I-Team exposes a fatal flaw after federal documents reveal the commercial truck driver responsible for a deadly crash in 2016 shouldn't have been behind the wheel.
The images are horrifying. The outcome, heartbreaking.
It was March 18, 2016 at the start of the evening commute. A large commercial truck hauling lumber lost control in the town of Washington, crashing into a line of oncoming cars.
Paul Fowles, 74, was killed first when his red pickup truck was crushed. Tina Torres-York, 45, died in her minivan, which burst into flames before anyone could remove her body.
"He turned his truck into a weapon," said Teri Kenniston, the sister of Torres-York.
Kenniston said Torres-York was two months shy of getting her degree to become a substance abuse counselor. Instead, she said, the wife and mother of three was killed by a man who could have used her help.
Randall Weddle, 56, was convicted in Knox County Superior Court on 15 counts, including manslaughter and operating under the influence. According to court documents, he was under the influence of alcohol and pain medication, while also speeding.
"It should never have happened," said Knox County District Attorney Jonathon Liberman.
Liberman said Weddle's criminal history dates back decades. Court records show he had been convicted of 48 motor vehicle offenses prior to the crash.
"Twelve prior drunk driving convictions and then 10 speeding violations," said Liberman. "Seven convictions for operating without a license or with a suspended or revoked license."
At the time, prosecutors say Weddle's right to operate was suspended in Louisiana and revoked in Virginia. An order by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration states he "should not have been driving" that commercial vehicle.
Still, Weddle held a valid license in Tennessee and was hired by R&E Logistics Inc. Owner Rick Mullinix tells the I-Team when he ran a background check, Weddle's DMV report came back clean, with no points on his license.
"It's hard to believe that he had any driver's license at all, let alone a CDL and how does something like that happen?" asked Kenniston.
"For some reason, it was valid in Tennessee since 2012 and it never got pulled," said Liberman.
The Commercial Driver's License Information System, or CDLIS, tracks these types of drivers in an effort to make sure they only hold one license in one state. The CDLIS network that allows states to share information with each other electronically is run by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, or AAMVA.
"If they commit an offense and they're convicted of that offense, the court then transmits that back to the DMV in the state where the offense occurs and then they submit it back to be on the record in the home state of that driver," said Ian Grossman, vice president of member services and public affairs.
Under federal law, states are required to notify each other within 10 days of a conviction. The I-Team couldn't obtain Weddle's driving records because of privacy laws, but an official in Tennessee, where he was licensed, said that didn't happen in this case.
Lori Bullard, assistant commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said Weddle's right to operate a motor vehicle was revoked by Virginia in 2013, but Tennessee wasn't notified until April of 2016. That's nearly two-and-a-half years later and was just after the crash in Maine.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles said, "Virginia has some of the strictest privacy laws governing the release of privileged customer records so, unfortunately, I am unable to address any DMV records regarding Mr. Weddle."
The I-Team asked Grossman if that kind of delay is concerning.
"If it was years after the conviction occurred, certainly it should not take that long after a conviction," he said.
"This could have been prevented," said Kenniston. "This was 100 percent a preventable accident."
Those who knew and loved Torres-York say it's now their mission to make sure no other families have to go through what they did.
"I'm sure one driver is not the only one on the road," said Amanda Wilbur, who called Torres-York one of her best friends.
Grossman said quick notification is crucial to the success of the system.
"Kicking that off in a timely manner would be one of the key components of making sure it works effectively," Grossman said.
"If this tragedy has to be the impetus for that, then maybe something good can happen," said Liberman.
It's too late for Torres-York. She'll never meet her granddaughter or put her degree to good use. Answers may help ease her family's minds, but not their hearts.
"Maine needed Tina," said Kenniston. "People like Randall need Tina."
Weddle is serving 25 years in prison, a historic and unprecedented sentence for a vehicular manslaughter case in Maine. His attorneys are appealing his conviction and sentence. They had no comment on this story.
The I-Team brought the issue to the attention of lawmakers. A spokesperson for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said she "is appalled that such an egregious breakdown in communication between state agencies occurred. She is deeply concerned by the public safety issue this raises and will explore it further—if this is a systematic problem rather than an isolated incident, it would certainly demand action from Congress."