Monday, February 18, 2008

Trailer hazards start crusade

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Trailer hazards start crusade

Wed, Feb 21, 2007

By EMILY STRANGERThe Brunswick NewsRon Melancon considers himself a simple man. "I'm just a nobody who works in a department store," he said.But this nobody from Richmond, Va., has already changed one state law and is campaigning to change laws in the other 49 states.

It's a crusade that started five years ago, when Melancon, 43, was returning home from a library with his 5-year-old son. He rear-ended a utility trailer being pulled by a pick up truck in front of him.He didn't even see it coming. Literally."I kept asking myself why didn't I pick up on the trailer, when it occurred to me that the trailer had a design flaw," he said. "The trailer was a see-through trailer, and it had nothing on or in it to give it some depth.

"The trailer had no brake lights or reflective tape, either. Melancon had looked right through it, seeing only the truck pulling it.When Melancon went to court over the incident in 2003, he pleaded not guilty to avoid conviction for causing an accident by following too closely. He told the judge that the trailer was unsafe and hard to see. The judge dismissed Melancon's ticket, but required him to go to driving school.From that day forward, Melancon has been leading a campaign against utility trailers that has already changed legislation in his state of Virginia. Now, his focus is on a national level.

"I discovered that these trailers are out there causing problems in places across the country," he said. Glynn County is one of the places that caught Melancon's eye.On Jan. 17, a homemade trailer broke away from a pick up truck and crossed the center line of the F.J. Torras Causeway, striking a black Chevrolet S-10 Blazer driven by Karen Simpson. Simpson, 48, an employee at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, was thrown from her vehicle and killed.

The driver of the truck, Joel Dixon, 23, has charges against him pending.Simpson's death is one of 1,000 deaths related to allegedly unsafe trailers in the United States, Melancon said."Most of the trailers you see on the road don't have taillights, or - if they do - the lights aren't working correctly," he said. "Also, many trailer owners don't even know the proper way to hitch them to their vehicles."Melancon has spent over $20,000 the past three years on a lobbyist and on published materials. He has 50 books that he plans to send to senators across the country. Each book is filled with news clippings detailing fatal accidents in every state.He has also posted video footage of fatal wrecks on for all the world to see.

And he keeps a camera in his car at all times to take pictures of unsafe trailers on the road. He now has over 2,000 photographs in stock.Glynn County Police Capt. Jim Kelly said all trailers are inspected in Georgia when the owners get them titled."The inspectors look to see that the trailer has a VIN (vehicle identification number) plate, safety chains (to secure a trailer to a towing vehicle if a trailer hitch fails), and working brake lights and turn signals," he said.The trailer that hit Simpson's vehicle on the F.J. Torras Causeway had safety chains, but they weren't attached, Kelly said."Also, the truck had an undersize ball for the trailer it was pulling," he said.

"The truck's ball was 1 7/8-inches, and the trailer was made to pull a 2-inch ball." Simpson's death does not stand alone in the state. The most recent statistics compiled by the Georgia Department of Transportation's Safety Unit show that there were 3,089 automobile accidents involving trailers in 2005.Of these crashes, there were 1,357 injuries and 13 fatalities.Melancon said he believes that the majority of these wrecks could have been prevented had the trailers been required by law to adhere to mandatory safety guidelines.