Dangerous Rigs: Oilfield Truck Crashes Kill, Injure Dozens
EL RENO, Oklahoma - Thirty-six people have died in crashes involving trucks hauling oilfield wastewater and equipment in Oklahoma since 2007.
An investigation by News On 6 and our partner, The Frontier, found that about seven percent of the trucking companies licensed for the work have been involved in deadly accidents.
Bad brakes, trucks thousands of pounds overweight, failure to test drivers for drugs -- all safety issues putting Oklahoma drivers at risk, including one young man who was nearly killed by an oilfield truck.
Kyle Randall narrowly escaped death when an oilfield truck, hauling wastewater, blew past a stop sign at a two-way stop off South Calumet and West Reno in El Reno.
The truck slammed into his driver's side and pinned him under the truck for over an hour.
The bumper hit his forehead.
"Multiple people can and have been killed. And, who's next," Randall asked.
Randall was in a coma for 12 days and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.
"That has to be God, I mean, you know," he said.
Court records show the truck, owned by Rick's Tank Truck Service, weighed almost 6,000 pounds over the legal limit.
Randall sued Rick's, a subsidiary of TruEnergy based in Ada, along with several energy companies.
Audio recordings between Rick's dispatchers and drivers were introduced in the case: "With the lights not working and the steering wheel broken…it's really not that bad of a truck."
Our investigation matched federal and state databases of fatal vehicle crashes and trucking industry safety records with companies licensed to haul oilfield wastewater and equipment in Oklahoma.
There are about 350 trucking companies licensed in Oklahoma working for some of the biggest energy companies operating in the state.
Rick's is just one of two dozen companies with trucks involved in at least 36 deadly crashes in the state since 2007. Nine of those companies had two deadly accidents, each.
Another 54 people have been injured in accidents with oilfield trucks in the past two years.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rates trucking companies on safety. Seven of the 24 companies involved in those deadly crashes have conditional ratings - the lowest rating a company can have and still be in operation.
Rick’s is among those companies.
Our investigation obtained federal records of Rick's repeated citations for bad brakes, a problem discussed on dispatch recordings: “He says he has no brakes and I don't know the condition that it's in…And with him being so young and inexperienced…"
After multiple equipment citations, the feds suggested Rick’s make drastic improvements.
Company records show Rick’s implemented a “bonus” program where drivers would earn a $100 gift card for clean truck inspections.
Additional federal records show Rick's was also cited for failing to test drivers for drugs and alcohol after accidents, which is required by the Federal government. One of the drivers the company failed to test was James Griffin, the driver of the truck that hit Randall.
Court records show Griffin was later convicted for failing to stop at the stop sign, causing Randall's accident, and for carrying weight over the 34,000-pound legal limit.
Rick's put Griffin on 30 days probation.
Randall's case is in the discovery process, with a pretrial conference set for June.
In pictures before the accident, Randall is a healthy 25-year-old; afterward, his arm is held together with a metal rod, his foot is paralyzed, he can't drive or walk upstairs and he struggles to remember things.
Randall said, "I do not want to die. My life has meaning. I do know that. What's that meaning for? I have no idea. Maybe it's to help stop some drivers from doing what they're doing."
Rick's, TruEnergy and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not respond to our calls for comment.
The Oklahoma Trucking Association, the “voice” of the trucking industry in Oklahoma, says driver behavior represents 87% of crashes, as opposed to vehicle defects. It also says there are fewer trucks at fault in fatal crashes. OTA released a statement saying, in part, “Safety rules and regulations facing trucking industry are stronger than ever before.”
For more on this story, you can visit News On 6's partner, The Frontier.
News On 6 would like to give special thanks to Photojournalist Michael Woods and Graphics Designer David Strozier for their assistance in this story.