Teen’s death inspires family’s fight against trucking industry

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A semi-trailer company will pay millions of dollars for the crash that killed a Manzano High School student. His family has won their fight in court, but they have a much bigger fight ahead of them.

They say if the company had installed a simple device, their son may still be alive. But getting trucking companies to do so isn’t proving so easy.

To say it was an ugly crash would be an understatement. Riley Hein, 16, was driving to zero-hour at Manzano High School for band practice.

“On his way to high school, a semi-truck drifted into his lane and forced him off the road. He ricocheted off the embankment, the concrete embankment and he became stuck underneath the semi-trailer,”

“His car was drug for about a half-mile and caught on fire, and he burned to death,”

It’s hard for Riley’s dad, Eric, to talk about, but he and Riley’s mom felt the need to tell Riley’s story to a jury. They sued the trucking company and the trailer company for negligence.

All because the trailer, like most, did not have an undercarriage guard, which can stop a car from becoming lodged underneath.

“According to our accident reconstructionist and experts we brought in that designs prototypes, this would have been a fender bender. Riley would have walked away. He had not physical injuries, he burned to death. That’s just shocking to know as a parent,” Eric Hein said.

It’s a danger that drivers continue to be exposed to every day, along the stretch where Riley died and highways across America. Just last month, a driver narrowly escaped injury when his car got lodged under a semi on I-40.

While a series of deadly rear-end crashes did prompt a mandate for rear guards on trailers, the fight for underride guards continues. In March, members of Congress, including New Mexico senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, sponsored a bill to require the guards.

But the trucking industry continues to fight it, citing cost. Riley’s family says if hearing stories like Riley’s isn’t enough to spark change, maybe lawsuits like theirs, resulting in a $19 million verdict, will.

Riley’s family says tragedies like this don’t need to keep happening.

“If you add up people died since the industry was first aware of this in the ’60s and ’70s it’s in the thousands. Somewhere between 200 and 500 people die a year, it’s predictable,” Hein said. “It’s like a jetliner going down every year and an industry ignoring that.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to the California-based trailer company involved, Utility Trailer, but did not hear back. The family did settle with the trucking company involved. They say that settlement put the company out of business.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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