The at-fault driver in a fatal fiery crash on Interstate 70 in January will not be charged, according to state documents obtained this week by The Frederick News-Post.
Shawn Darin Gill, 46, of Gaithersburg, was driving west on I-70 at about 9 a.m. Jan. 25 when his 2012 Kenworth dump truck struck a 2011 Nissan Rogue stopped at the Interstate 270 interchange, according to police. While a Maryland State Police crash reconstruction report indicated Gill’s distracted driving was a leading cause of the crash, prosecutors declined to pursue charges in a letter sent to the lead investigator July 24.
“We are unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Gill was grossly negligent in the operation of his motor vehicle,” Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Moore wrote in the letter. “Therefore, it is my opinion that no criminal or traffic charges are warranted.”
The driver of the Nissan, 46-year-old Jacob “Jake” Jackson, was killed when the Nissan was pushed forward into the rear of a second dump truck stopped in front of him, causing the Nissan to “instantly burst into flames,” according to a report obtained Thursday through a Maryland Public Information Act Request.
Gill waived his rights and was dictating a statement to Trooper Robert Hook at the Frederick Memorial Hospital after the crash when a nurse walked in to give Gill some medication for his pain, the report states.
“I heard [Gill] tell the nurse that he was on the phone with his wife when the accident occurred and he was sure [his wife] heard the entire accident over the phone,” Hook’s report reads in part.
An examination of Gill’s cellphone history later determined that Gill placed a call that lasted just under two minutes at about 9:04 a.m., the report states. Recordings of 911 calls obtained in a previous request by The Frederick News-Post in January indicate the first calls reporting the crash were made at 9:07 a.m.
Police also examined a video of the crash taken from a tractor-trailer behind Gill’s truck to determine that Gill’s truck hit the brakes less than a second before striking the Nissan.
Based on the video, investigators estimated Gill had 10 seconds and 880 feet of roadway in order to react to the stopped vehicles ahead of him, but failed to do so, according to the conclusion of the report.
“[Gill’s] driving history (captured on video) indicates that he [was] driving distracted,” the report reads in part. “Vehicle one is solely responsible for the collision with the causation being [Gill] not giving his full time and attention to the roadway.”
In explaining the decision not to pursue charges against Gill, Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith drew a distinction between proving gross negligence versus ordinary negligence.
“We need to prove a grossly negligent situation in order to charge someone with a crime, which we did not believe we would be able to do in this case,” Smith said. “There were some other factors that day, for example, there was apparently a pre-collision defect in the brakes on [Gill’s] truck … that was probably the biggest factor.”
Gill said he tried to downshift and “stood up on brakes” when he noticed the traffic stopped in front of him, according to the statement Trooper Hook took down on Gill’s behalf at the hospital following the crash. In spite of this, Gill said the brakes “went to [the] floor,” according to the rest of his statement.
Gill also told at least one other witness at the scene that his brakes failed during the crash, according to the report. Erin L. Campbell-Weaver, a registered nurse, told police she spoke with Gill briefly after witnessing the crash and exiting her vehicle to provide medical assistance to any victims.
“I asked him what happened, and he said, ‘I don’t know ... I tried to stop and the truck wouldn’t stop,’” Campbell-Weaver wrote of her conversation with Gill immediately after witnesses and police pulled him from his truck. “He then said, ‘I kept slamming on the brakes, and the truck wouldn’t stop,’ he kept repeating to me.”
An examination of Gill’s truck revealed that one of the vehicle’s brakes was out of alignment at the time of the crash, according to state police’s conclusion.
In addition to the brakes, Gill also told police he was using a hands-free device connected to his phone to talk with his wife, Smith said. While using a cellphone while driving is a primary offense, no offense can be charged if a hands-free device is used, Smith said.
Gill’s cellphone was destroyed by the fire that engulfed both his truck and several other vehicles involved in the crash, according to Hook’s report.
Gill did not return multiple calls to either his cellphone or a home number seeking comment for this story.
While no criminal charges were filed, “that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some degree of negligence by one or more people in this situation,” Smith said.
“But that’s for the civil courts to decide,” Smith added.
Peter Jackson, Jacob Jackson’s brother, declined to comment when reached by The Frederick News-Post by telephone Friday afternoon.
Another factor of the crash was the presence of state troopers and U.S. Capitol Police escorting a motorcade of U.S. Senate Democrats to a retreat in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Jackson and the trucks in front of him were stopped at the time of the crash to allow the motorcade to safely merge from northbound I-270.
When Gill’s truck struck Jackson’s Nissan, the smaller vehicle slammed into the rear of a 2002 Mack dump truck driven by Mark James Tew, which was in turn pushed into the rear of 2006 Peterbilt dump truck driven by Richard Edward Alder, according to the analysis of the crash.
Both the Nissan and Gill’s truck continued across several lanes of traffic to end up on the opposite shoulder facing the I-270 interchange. Meanwhile, the gas tank of Tew’s truck ruptured, catching fire and eventually burning part of Alder’s truck, the report states.
While Tew and Alder were able to free themselves from their trucks and Gill was pulled from his truck by witnesses, several attempts by witnesses and capitol police to free Jackson failed, the report states.
While witnesses described hearing Jackson moan after approaching his vehicle following the crash, he appeared to be unconscious and all attempts to free him from the heavily damaged and rapidly burning Nissan were unsuccessful, the report states.
Both Tew and Alder blamed the crash in large part on the motorcade. Tew in particular was described as “extremely upset” when Trooper Hook took his statement at the hospital after the crash.
“The police that shut the road down caused this accident,” Tew reportedly told Hook, adding in a written statement later that the crash would not have happened “if traffic would have been stopped properly by the cops.”
Other witnesses agreed. Dale Thomas Moran, who saw the crash in his rearview mirror and tried unsuccessfully to rescue Jackson from the wreck, also placed some blame on the motorcade.
“The way they shut down [the] roadway with rolling stops seemed inappropriate,” Moran wrote in his witness statement under a section asking if he believed the crash could have been avoided. “[It] caused a lot of people to slam brakes.”
In their conclusion, Maryland State Police investigators determined that, while the motorcade was “a contributing factor, it was not the cause of the collision as at least three other vehicles were able to control their speed and come to a complete stop,” after the motorcade blocked I-70.
State police also noted that Alder radioed back a warning over a CB channel to the trucks behind him warning them about the roadblock in the final moments before the crash.
None of the capital police who provided statements to state police filled out the section asking if the crash could have been avoided, and a U.S. Capitol Police supervisor — identified only as Sgt. McCullough in the report — who was interviewed by a state police investigator after the crash, argued that the roadblock was “normal operating procedure,” used by police to secure such motorcades.
Summing up the report, Smith said prosecutors ultimately sided with the state police’s conclusions regarding what led to the crash. That said, he stood by his office’s stance that insufficient evidence exists to pursue charges of any kind following what he called “a terribly tragic fatality.”
“To some degree, it was a perfect storm as to what happened that day,” Smith said.