A commercial truck driver’s sudden lane change and panicked braking created a deadly situation for a following motorcycle rider on I-81 in northeastern West Virginia. The fatal rear-end collision happened near the town of Marlowe on the afternoon of February 21.
Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies responded to the crash at mile marker 24.5 at around 4:45 pm. They determined that the driver of a semi tractor operating without an attached trailer had cut off the motorcycle rider in an attempt to avoid running into the back of a line of vehicles that had stopped for an earlier accident. It is unclear if the truck driver signaled the unexpected lane change, but a press release from the sheriff’s office indicates that the driver slammed on his brakes just after pulling in front of the motorcyclist.
The motorcycle rider could not stop in time and ran into the rear of the semi cab. Identified as a 46-year-old retired Washington County, Maryland (MD), Sheriff’s Department sergeant, he died from his injuries at the scene. Reports stress that the deceased motorcycle rider was wearing a helmet.
The truck driver faces a preliminary charge for making an improper lane change. Under Section 17C-7-9(1) of the West Virginia Code, “A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
The deputies who charged the truck driver obviously believed that the driver did not take the time or care needed to ensure that a crash would not occur if he changed lanes. And, sadly, this fatal rear-end collision on I-81 through Berkley County illustrates the worst of what can happen when a driver changes lanes without the time and space needed to do so safely.
The tragedy also highlights how little protection motorcycle riders have when other drivers act negligently or recklessly. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recorded 269 deaths from traffic crashes in West Virginia during 2016. Motorcyclists accounted for 29 of those deceased victims, and 19 of those riders were wearing helmets.
As Virginia-based wrongful death attorneys who have represented many victims of truck crashes in West Virginia, my law firm colleagues and I know too well how much pain and suffering a commercial drivers can do by committing even the smallest errors. We send our deep condolences out the friends and family of the motorcycle rider who lost his life as a result of this improper lane change.