Note: Ignacio Sanchez’s interview was translated from Spanish to English.
EDINBURG, Texas (KVEO) — Fly-away debris on the expressway can cause major accidents, can be cited by police, and cost taxpayer’s money to clean up.
Edinburg Police Lieutenant, Reynaldo Sepulveda, said debris can be different things, “It’s a combination of anything from furniture to trash to industrial equipment.”
Most recently, a major accident was caused because a driver’s mattress was not tightly secured, flying off causing an 18-wheeler to catch on fire.
“A mattress flew off a pick-up truck, went and got caught underneath a tractor-trailer, while the tractor-trailer was dragging the mattress, the mattress caught fire,” said Sepulveda. “And eventually the whole mattress caught fire and burned the truck down.”
The driver of that 18-wheeler was Ignacio Sanchez who is a truck driver for FJ Truck Lines in Edinburg. He was coming back after making a delivery.
“On that day, there was a lot of strong winds and the other driver did not have his things tightly secured,” said Sanchez.
That is when the mattress fell off the passing driver’s truck and getting caught under Sanchez’s trailer.
“The only reaction I had was to quickly get over to the side of the road,” said Sanchez. “As soon as I looked underneath the trailer, there was already a lot of fire.”
The other driver continued driving, fleeing the scene, while Sanchez looked for ways to put out the fire.
“I ran for the fire extinguisher on the passenger side, but as soon as I got to the passenger side, it was too late…The fire spread too far to extinguish it,” said Sanchez. “It took 40 seconds to one minute for the whole truck to burn, including half of the trailer.”
Sanchez said in about a minute, the truck was gone along with $1,000 worth of personal items.
“I could only grab my phone because the only reaction I had at that moment was to call my boss. I really don’t care so much for material things, but they were all left there and they all burned,” said Sanchez. “My bag, my documents, and personal items.”
The other driver was nowhere to be seen and none of Sanchez’s items were compensated. If the driver had stayed Sepulveda said it would have been a citation.
“If debris does fly off your vehicle you will be charged with littering,” said Sepulveda.
He said a police officer can stop someone whose load appears unsecure.
“Then the officer will conduct a traffic stop and educate the person and try to see how they can secure the load,” said Sepulveda.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation works with millions in a budget just to keep the roads clean.
“Here at the Pharr District, encompasses most of the eight counties in the state, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Brookes, Kennedy, Willacy County, Cameron, Hidalgo, and Starr—it’s around $2 million for mowing, sweeping and debris pick-up,” said Octavio Saenz, public information officer of TxDOT.
State-wide, Saenz said the cost of damages has been in the thousands for accidents caused by fly-away debris.
“I’ll tell you one thing between 2015 and 2019 there were recorded approximately 1,700 throughout the state of Texas,” said Saenz.
In the last seven years, debris has caused over 500 accidents in the Rio Grande Valley with 335 in Hidalgo County, 179 in Cameron County, 13 in Starr County, and 11 in Willacy County.
TxDOT suggests that people with heavy loads ride on the frontage road instead of using the expressway, and if anyone seeing debris or potential danger, they are just a call away.
“When individuals see something that is a safety hazard, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 956-702-6000,” said Saenz.
Sepulveda also encourages the community to take more responsibility for safety on the highway to prevent accidents like Sanchez’s from happening again.
“It’s that they’re not securing it and that’s why it’s flying off the vehicles. It’s very important to secure your load,” said Sepulveda.