Accident victim stable; DOT driver suspended for now

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2001

A Sterling woman is in stable condition at Central Peninsula General Hospital after being injured in an automobile accident that took her husband's life Sunday.

According to Alaska State Troopers, around 11 a.m. Sunday, an Alaska Department of Trans-portation and Public Facilities dump truck equipped with a sanding unit veered across the center line of the Sterling Highway at Mile 86.6 and hit a Dodge three-quarter-ton pickup truck driven by 55-year-old Robin Pennington, killing him.

Barbara Pennington, 51, was transported to CPGH, where she was listed in stable condition Monday afternoon, according to a hospital spokesperson.

The driver of the DOT truck, Pixie Smith, 43, of Soldotna, is off work until drug and alcohol tests are completed and the trooper and DOT reports are done, according to Murph O'Brien, assistant to the regional manager of DOT in Anchorage.

"All of our drivers have commercial driver's licenses, and one of the requirements is that they are tested for drugs and alcohol immediately after an accident, and that has occurred," O'Brien said.

He said DOT also is arranging for counseling for Smith to deal with the trauma of the accident. She was uninjured.

Troopers said alcohol was not a factor, and no charges have been filed. Trooper spokesperson Greg Wilkinson in Anchorage said when the trooper report is ready, it will be forwarded to the District Attorney's office.

O'Brien said it was his understanding that the sand truck had the blade under the center of the vehicle in the down position and was attempting to break up the packed snow and ice on the highway when the accident occurred. It could have gotten hung up on ice, he said, and contributed to the accident.

"It happens occasionally. We've had a couple other incidents," he said.

Wilkinson said icy conditions played the biggest factor in the accident.

He did not know how fast Smith may have been traveling or what the prescribed speed is for such operations. The speed limit in that area is 55 mph. The vehicle was a mid-size dump truck that could carry 8 cubic yards of sand, but O'Brien said it was not carrying its maximum load.

Smith has worked for DOT out of Soldotna for more than 4 1/2 years, O'Brien said.

He said an in-house report is expected to be completed sometime this week.

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