I-TEAM: St. Johns County semi-crash may not have been deadly if underride guards were in place

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – An 84-year-old man from St. Johns died in an early morning crash when his SUV went under a tractor trailer in St. Johns County.

A report from the Florida Highway Patrol said it happened around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday on US 1 at Pine Island Road. The 27-year-old semi-truck driver from Orange Park wasn’t hurt.

Both drivers were wearing seat belts.

While the crash is still under investigation, what happened Tuesday morning is known as a side underride crash. It’s an extremely deadly scenario that the News4JAX I-TEAM has been investigating for years.

“It’s not the crash that kills people it is the underride,” said truck safety advocate Lois Durso. “And once the car rides under a tractor trailer, most of the time people are either killed or they’re catastrophically injured.”

Quite simply, an underride crash is when a smaller vehicle goes underneath a truck trailer. It can happen from behind or in Tuesday’s crash, the side.

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Well, there’s a mismatch between the bumper heights of a car and the side or the rear of a trailer,” she said. “On the side, there’s nothing there’s no barriers that prevent cars from going underneath.”

Durso, who recently moved to St. Johns County, knows the scenario all too well. Her daughter Roya Sadigh died this way in 2004 in Indiana. She was only 26. Her fiancé survived. Since then, Durso’s joined other families in pushing for more protection. She’s worked especially close with Marianne Karth, who lost two daughters in an underride crash.

“People are dying and I see that it’s something that doesn’t have to happen,” she told News4JAX. “And I don’t want other families to go through the heartache that I’ve had to go through.”

Since 2017, Durso and her team have pushed for a federal law for mandatory side underride guards and stronger rear guards. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is behind the push, as was former Florida Senator Bill Nelson. There are several products on the market, but the trucking industry argues they’re expensive, inefficient and ineffective at high speeds.

Durso’s group tests suggest otherwise. A crash test two months ago in Virginia shows an underride guard stopping a car from going underneath a semi. It’s still a serious impact, but the sedan does not go under the truck, which is often a deadly scenario.

In Tuesday morning’s crash, state troopers say the 27-year-old driver of the semi was trying to make a left turn on US1, when the 84-year-old man behind the wheel of the SUV hit the side. News4JAX saw that the front half of his vehicle went under, killing the man. Regardless of who’s at fault, Durso believes it didn’t have to end this way.

I don’t know all the particulars of the crash,” she said. “But I think that, as far as I know, that trailer did not have any kind of underride protection that would have prevented the car from going underneath. We could have a driver that’s still alive.”

Durso says if you’d like to help their cause, you can learn more at her group’s website, StopUnderrides.org.

She’s also asking people to reach out to their lawmakers, the Department of Transportation, and trucking industry leaders to ask for more underride protection.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.