TAMPA — The warning alarm and white reverse lights on a city garbage truck that backed over and killed a woman on Davis Islands in June were not working when tested after the collision, newly released records show.
The details are part of a 78-page Tampa police report released to the Tampa Bay Times on Friday. The report sheds new light on what happened in the moments before Truck No. 6181 backed over 65-year-old Marcia Woodside Rivers on June 26.
The 2012 Peterbilt is equipped with a beeping alarm designed to alert pedestrians that the truck is in reverse, but Tampa police investigators who tested the truck after driver Jarvis H. Mercer backed out of an alley that sunny morning noted the alarm didn’t sound, the report shows.
The truck’s backup camera was working during the on-scene test, according to the report, but Mercer, 49, told investigators that he was keeping a closer eye on his side mirrors as he reversed out of the narrow alley at 30 Davis Boulevard to avoid hitting the building. He said he didn’t realize he had hit someone until he felt the front end of the truck shake slightly, looked out to investigate the cause and saw Rivers’ body.
But the report also notes that one witness in a nearby building who saw the truck enter the alley told police she "could hear the ‘beep beep’ of the truck backing up."
Mercer told police he couldn’t hear the exterior reverse alarm from inside the truck but that a beeping alarm that sounds inside the truck when it is reversing was sounding as he backed out of the alley.
"I was just trying my best to take my time to come out of the alley, you know," he told investigators. "I wasn’t speeding or anything like that. I didn’t see the lady, honestly didn’t see the lady."
A driver trainee with him that day, Marcus Geathers, told police the truck’s backup alarm sounded as they were backing out but it’s not clear if he meant the interior or exterior beeper.
The standard white lights that activate when the transmission is placed in reverse were also not working, the report says. A subsequent inspection report by the Florida Highway Patrol also notes the lack of functioning reverse lights, a violation of federal commercial vehicle regulations.
The Tampa police report notes another factor that might have been at play that day: Rivers, a retired Hillsborough County school teacher, had "severe peripheral vision loss from multiple retinal treatments" and "side vision loss in both eyes," according to medical records. The report notes that Rivers also wore a hearing aid for hearing loss, a fact the Times has previously reported.
A previous Times investigation found that a week before the crash, a city solid waste driver noted equipment failures in the vehicle’s onboard inspection log: "No reverse lights," the note said. "No backup camera, no backup alarm, no marker lights on rear half of truck." Marker lights are yellow lights on the top of the truck that remain lit when the truck is operating.
Mark Wilfalk, director of the city’s Department of Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management, previously told the Times the truck had been made "road-worthy" on June 19, after a "quick fix" mechanic addressed at least some of the problems noted in the log. Wilfalk said the mechanic repaired the marker lights and camera but was not told about an issue with the backup alarm and therefore did not attempt to repair it.
FHP directed the city to repair non-functioning marker lights, reverse lights and brakes that were out of adjustment. None of those problems would require the city to take the truck out of service, according to Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a Highway Patrol spokesman. Federal commercial vehicle regulations do not require a functioning back up camera or reverse warning alarm, Gaskins said.
Wilfalk said Friday that he still couldn’t comment on whether the backup alarm was working because his staff had not had the chance to inspect the vehicle.
Before embarking on their routes in the early morning, drivers are expected to inspect their trucks and complete a log. A similar evaluation is required at the end of the day.
On the morning of the crash, Mercer did not fill out the log. He said he inspected the truck, according to Wilfalk, but did not document it. Wilfalk said his department is changing its pre- and post-trip inspection protocol in response to the incident so drivers share more information about the condition of vehicles.
Police have previously said Mercer would not be criminally charged. He was given a civil traffic citation for violating the right of way while emerging from the alley, the report says.
One witness who ran to the scene after the collision said Mercer was "laying in the road, curled up in a ball, sobbing."
Wilfalk said Mercer is still distraught and on paid, personal leave. If he decides to return, he will be subject to an administrative hearing process to decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken.
The report says Mercer has worked for the city for 10-1/2 years, all as a driver in the Solid Waste Department, and had been in five preventable crashes, "some of which involved backing." The city takes into account previous incidents within three years but might go beyond that if there is a troubling pattern, Wilfalk said.
Rivers lived on Davis Islands and was out for her morning walk when she was run over. An autopsy concluded she died of injuries to multiple organs, including her heart and aorta, when her torso was crushed by the truck.
Wilfalk offered condolences to Rivers family. He noted her issues with hearing and peripheral vision.
"It makes you question if this was like the perfect, unfortunate storm," he said.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.