PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The big rig's data recorder captured the entire crash, as well as some of what led up to it. Family members of the woman who was killed say they believe the case was cut and dry: vehicular homicide. But the driver of the semi walked away without so much as a traffic ticket.

"I'm angry at the driver. Yes, because he made bad decisions. I don't purposefully believe that he set out to harm anyone that day. But because of his bad decisions, somebody was killed," said Sheryl Sabal, whose stepmother, Grace Sabal, died in the crash.

Big rig driver not charged after fatal I-17 collision

"With the Department of Public Safety, yeah, I'm angry. Because it's their job to hold these people accountable. It's their job to protect the citizens of the state. They're there to uphold justice. And justice wasn't done that day. It still hasn't," said Sabal.

The crash happened on May 27, 2017, on I-17 near Anthem. David Stout was driving an 18 wheeler northbound just after noon.

The rig's data recorder shows the semi plowing into a Toyota RAV4, which was coming to a stop because traffic had backed up on the freeway. Sheryl Sabal, her stepmother, Grace, her father, and sister were all inside the small SUV.

According to DPS investigators who looked at the big rig, the antilock brake system light was on but was covered with a piece of black tape, indicating a fault within the system.

The crash report states Stout hadn't logged the total miles he drove, as is required by federal motor carrier law. One investigator called it a false record. Stout wrote that traffic came to a dead stop, and he "could not stop fast enough."

Investigators concluded the semi brakes did not engage until it was approximately 50 feet from the Toyota or half a second from impact.

If you look at Stout's behavior in the minutes before the crash, he appears to be fidgeting, steering the semi with his knees, and texting. The semi struck the Sabal's vehicle, as well as two other vehicles.

"It crashed right into us. And the car started spinning. And it's everything you think about. Your life flashes before your eyes and everything was like white, and you could hear metal crashing and glass breaking and then the airbags popping out. I'm sure it was only a few seconds, but it felt like forever," said Sabal.

"This should have been charged as a vehicular homicide against the driver, and quite frankly, the trucking company should have also been criminally charged," said Tom Ryan. He is an attorney representing the Sabal family.

He says DPS troopers failed to adequately investigate the crash. They didn't collect data that the onboard computer recorded. And Ryan argues that just the tape over the antilock warning light meant that the truck was a time bomb.

"It told us that the maintenance people back at the yard for this corporation knew that this vehicle was unsafe. And rather than deal with the brakes, they decided to put it back out on the road where it was a risk and a danger to every traveler on Interstate 17 or any highway that truck was on," said Ryan.

The truck was owned by Phoenix-based Michael Most Trucking. Federal court records show the company has a $6 million judgment outstanding for a previous fatal crash in New Mexico, which means even if the Sabals were to sue, they would likely not get a penny.

Ryan sent a letter to DPS, asking that they take a second look at the case. The DPS response included the following statement:

"The Department concluded that the investigation into the fatal collision was appropriate, thorough and in accordance with training, policy and general law enforcement practices."

"I'm going to go back to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office at this point. Ask them to re-evaluate this case because nobody from DPS ever notified the Maricopa County Attorney's office that it should be prosecuted," said Ryan.

DPS responded to our questions with a statement that reads:

"The Department expresses our deepest condolences to the family that lost a loved one in this crash. In response to the letter sent to the Department by the family's attorney, the department conducted a review of the 2017 fatal-collision investigation. As outlined in our response to the family's attorney, the Department's review found the investigation was appropriate, thorough, and in accordance with training, policy, and best law enforcement practices."

Michael Most Trucking did not respond to our repeated requests for comment. David Stout did not return our phone call.

The Sabals say the void that the loss of Grace caused is something they still feel every day.

"It was a very, very big loss to our family. We lost our mother when we were very young. And my father married later on in life. He found Grace. And that was such a blessing for both him and for us because she kind of brought our family back together. She became a matriarch," said Sabal.

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
 
 

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Locations

Recommended for you