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Victim wore hearing aids but Tampa garbage truck may not have sounded alarm

A week before a front-loading Tampa solid waste truck backed over pedestrian Marcia Woodside Rivers on a Davis Islands sidewalk, an operator documented problems with safety equipment on the rear of the truck.  [Document courtesy of City of Tampa]
A week before a front-loading Tampa solid waste truck backed over pedestrian Marcia Woodside Rivers on a Davis Islands sidewalk, an operator documented problems with safety equipment on the rear of the truck. [Document courtesy of City of Tampa]
Published Jul. 24, 2018

TAMPA — On a Tuesday in June, a city solid waste driver noted equipment failures on a Tampa garbage truck and scrawled an entry 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."

Seven days later, on June 26, a different driver in that truck backed over a sidewalk on Davis Boulevard and knocked down Marcia Woodside Rivers. She was crushed to death under the wheels. The 65-year-old retired teacher wore hearing aids.

Did truck No. 6181's backup alarm ring? Had lights warned her? Did two backup cameras not capture her?

It remains unclear what safety features were operable that day on the truck.

The Tampa Police Department, after four weeks, has not completed its investigation.

The vehicle's driver said everything was working the morning of the crash, according to Mark Wilfalk, director of the city's Department of Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management.

Wilfalk said 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.

"The solid waste road mechanic made the necessary repairs to the vehicle's marker lights and backup camera, based on the driver's request, and instructed the driver to place the vehicle in the shop if the issues persist," Wilfalk said.

In response to a Tampa Bay Times request, Wilfalk produced sparse notes from the road mechanic, who reported working on the truck at 6:10 a.m. on June 19, following the driver's 5:15 a.m. inspection.

"No rear lights checked fuses ok brake and turn signal working turn into shop," the mechanic's notes said.

Wilfalk said the mechanic was not told about an issue with the backup alarm and therefore did not attempt to repair it.

The matter of whether the alarm was working is "part of the investigation," he said.

In the aftermath of Rivers' death, the city called in some trucks known to have outstanding maintenance issues and made repairs to backup safety equipment on multiple vehicles.

Three trucks needed repairs to backup cameras, according to a Times review of city maintenance records. Six had backup alarms that were functioning poorly or not at all.

•••

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.

The June 19 log noting the backup issues was completed by Eric Pasco, an experienced automated collection driver.

Three other drivers recorded completing 10 pre-trip or post-trip inspections in the days that followed. No others noted issues like the ones Pasco found.

On the morning of the Davis Islands crash, driver Jarvis Mercer, 49, did not fill out the log. He said he inspected the truck, according to Wilfalk, but did not document it.

Mercer set out with a second person, a driver trainee.

The truck's two backup cameras had previously been repaired in January and May. A backup camera monitor and backup camera were listed as parts on a January 8 maintenance order, and a backup camera was again repaired on May 1.

The city's Fleet Maintenance Division handled those repairs, as it often does for the Solid Waste Department's 150 vehicles.

Fleet Maintenance had also had a private company do tire work on the truck multiple times in June, including on June 18.

No records show the vehicle was seen by Fleet Maintenance for the issues described in the logbook on June 19.

•••

The deadly collision occurred about 9:14 a.m. on June 26, as Mercer drove the front-end loader truck on a Davis Islands route. He turned off Davis Boulevard into a paved area between two buildings to pick up a commercial dumpster.

Rivers was out for a walk just a few minutes from her apartment, heading north.

The truck, marked with a bright yellow "Caution" sign on the rear, backed away from the dumpster. Rivers was knocked over and her body was dragged more than 20 feet, the medical examiner's report said.

She died at the scene.

Tampa police announced a day after the crash that the driver would not face a criminal charge. Instead, Mercer would face a civil citation involving a death, police spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

In the weeks since, police have said little about the case. No citations have been filed in court. The driver did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The truck remains impounded.

"We still don't know what caused this incident," Wilfalk said.

He said he can't say for sure whether the backup alarm was working that day.

"Does it have an intermittent issue?" he asked. "I don't know yet."

•••

After Rivers' death, things got busy at Fleet Maintenance.

Twenty-two garbage trucks arrived the day of the crash, work orders show. Two had their backup cameras repaired and two had backup alarms fixed.

The next day, 13 were checked in. Two had issues with alarms.

On the third day, seven more came. Two had very faint or inoperable backup alarms, and one of those also had no functioning reverse lights.

The fourth day, six trucks came and one had an issue with a camera.

During those four days, some trucks had multiple issues: One lacked both a functioning back up alarm and back up lights, and had no fire extinguisher. Another needed repairs to a backup alarm, a horn, backup lights and the right turn signal.

Some of the vehicles were due for routine maintenance.

"Due to the nature of the work," Wilfalk said, "these trucks require continuous maintenance and inspections."

But, after the Davis Islands accident, 15 to 20 drivers had been instructed to "turn their vehicles in to have any unresolved mechanical issues addressed," Wilfalk said.

When tragedy strikes, it pushes people to take precautionary measures, he said.

"What we've discovered is, you know what, we've got a couple of holes and we need to concentrate a little bit harder on this area of our operation to make sure that we safely providing service."

Wilfalk said his department takes equipment replacement seriously and will be taking a closer look at all vehicles.

"It's a wake-up call for us," he said, "and we've got to improve in that area."

•••

In the month since the deadly crash, the Solid Waste Department has made some changes.

Mercer's supervisor was shifted from the front-end loader unit, which collects waste, to the transfer station unit, which processes it.

"We want to see how his skill sets function over there," Wilfalk said.

The dumpster that was previously on a one-person route will now be on a two-person route, Wilfalk said. The second person will serve as a spotter.

Contact Bre Bradham at bbradham@tampabay.com or (803) 460-9001.

BACKGROUND: Garbage truck backed up over retired teacher on Davis Islands, police say

BACKGROUND: Woman killed by Tampa garbage truck wore hearing aids, not earbuds