Witness describes crash that killed six, injured six
Support being raised for victims' families
In the week since six people perished in the crash on Interstate 75, friends of the victims' families have shown an outpouring of support on crowd-funding websites, donating tens of thousands of dollars toward burial costs and other expenses. More than $18,650 has been raised for the family of Brian Gallaher, the Ocoee Middle School band teacher who lived in Cleveland with his wife and two children before he was killed in the crash last Wednesday. "Brian Gallaher was an inspiration to all!" his GoFundMe site reads, appealing for assistance for his family "in their time of grief and loss." Meanwhile, friends of a California family who lost two young girls in the crash have raised more than $16,800 in just three days. Kelsie and Savannah Garriagues, ages 9 and 10, were killed in the crash along with their mother, Tiffany Watts, and grandmother Sandra Anderson. The girls lived with their father in San Mateo, Calif., but were in Tennessee to visit Watts and her family. "Nicholas and the Garriagues family have suffered an unimaginable loss of his beloved daughters Kelsie and Savannah," the GoFundMe set up for the Garriagues reads. "We can never replace the loss of his daughters but we may ease the financial burden, and more importantly show that we stand tall behind him and his family!" Dalton State residency director Jason Ramos was also killed in the wreck. A mass for Ramos is being held in his hometown of Brunswick, Ohio, today, according to his obituary. To find more information about the Gallahers' GoFundMe, visit www.gofundme.com/xxp5t4m To find more information about the Garriagues' GoFundMe, visit www.gofundme.com/NicholasGarrigues
The first route of Ben Brewer's new trucking job was supposed to take him on a loop from London, Ky., down to Haines City, Fla., and back again within a week.
But within just four days of being hired, Brewer would be involved in two collisions - the second killing six people in Chattanooga last week when Brewer's semi-truck plowed into a line of cars on Interstate 75.
National Transportation Safety Board officials on Thursday released the timeline of Brewer's first journey as an employee of Kentucky-based Cool Runnings Express. The crash investigation is so expansive, it could take a year or more to complete, they said.
"Normally, we send a team of five investigators to a crash site," said Pete Kotowski, chief NTSB investigator for the crash, which took place near Exit 11 on I-75 North. "For this one, we sent 11."
A concurrent criminal investigation by the Chattanooga Police Department is ongoing, police said Thursday.
Right now, investigators are awaiting results from blood samples taken from Brewer in the hour after the crash to see whether he had alcohol or drugs in his system.
Brewer, whom Kotowski described as an "experienced" truck driver prior to his new job, passed a drug and alcohol test when he was hired by Cool Runnings Express on June 22. But, against company policy, Brewer failed to get tested on June 24, after he sideswiped another truck in Florida and was cited for careless driving.
Brewer has not yet been charged in connection with last week's I-75 wreck and has returned to Kentucky. But he is currently wanted on an active warrant in Wisconsin on a 2013 charge for possessing prescription drugs for resale. In that case, he posted a $250 bond and missed his court date.
Because the possession charge is a misdemeanor - punishable by a $500 fine and no more than six months in jail - Brewer cannot be extradited to Wisconsin.
Brewer was "very candid" and "very cooperative" during NTSB interviews in Kentucky on Wednesday, Kotowski said, but officials are still working to corroborate his statements with those he made after the crash.
He is still technically allowed to drive, though Kotowski said he did not believe Brewer was driving commercially. Cool Runnings Express could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Investigators also are looking into whether fatigue could have affected Brewer, who had driven 580 miles from Haines City, Fla., when the crash occurred.
They have closely analyzed Brewer's truck and found some maintenance issues that included brake problems, but Kotowski said those problems did not contribute to the crash. The speed of Brewer's truck at the time has not been released.
The NTSB also is looking into a full range of environmental factors that may have contributed to the crash. While the crash took place in a construction zone, Kotowski said the proper highway warning systems and traffic precautions had been put in place.
Investigators have managed to pull data from eight of the nine vehicles' crash recorders, which may also help them trace what happened right before impact.
Sgt. David Allen with the Chattanooga Police Department said Thursday that the NTSB's investigation will feed into the city's criminal investigation, but that the outcome of that case could take months.
Contact staff writer Kate Belz at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.