According to the San Antonio Express-News, a highway linking small towns in the Eagle Ford Shale has become one of Texas’ deadliest highways earning itself the nickname ‘death row’.
One January morning, Daniel Zambrano, 26, was driving a company van along with six coworkers after a 24-hour shift at a natural gas site close to Tilden. The hours were twice as long as a typical oil field shift but were the standard for their employer, Compass Well Services.
While driving on Texas 72, Zambrano fell asleep at the wheel, causing the van to collide into a school bus at 70 mph. The school bus had originally stopped to pick up a child, according to police reports. The children inside the school bus were not occupying the back of the bus as they had been told to avoid it because of the dangerous road, thus leaving them unharmed in the accident.
Steve Alaniz, a commuter, arrived at the scene of the accident and found Zambrano dead along with two other passengers, Martin Aguirre and Jose “Joe” Rios. The other four passengers were injured but survived the accident.
Alaniz stated about the crash, “There are so many guys that are working all night and so many people getting up in the morning, and roads like 72 aren’t big enough to handle that traffic”. According to a pending lawsuit against Compass Well Services, the company did not provide designated drivers or on-site resting areas. The attorneys who represent Zambrano’s family say a rested designated driver would have saved several lives and cost little to the company.
Zambrano left behind his pregnant wife, Whitney, and their toddler. Aguirre and his wife along with his five children lived in Brownsville. Rios left behind is wife, Cindy, and son who live in San Antonio.
Throughout Texas, fatal accidents have increased for oil and gas workers since the oil drilling and fracking boom started in 2008. Despite road deaths decreasing through the nation, Texas has led the country in motor vehicle deaths.
Accidents that result in the death of three or more people, or triple tragedies, have become common in the state. The death toll for triple tragedies increased from 72 in 2010 to 148 in 2013 within Texas. Already for 2014, 81 people have died in triple tragedies, which only include data through mid-July. However, it is difficult to determine how many fatal accident and triple tragedies are a result of the oil boom because accident reports fail to include that information.
A major cause of workplace fatalities in Texas includes transportation accidents. Texas also led the nation in oil patch and workplace fatalities for 2012. Of the oil patch-related fatalities in 2013, half were transportation accidents states the Texas Department of Insurance. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also revealed oil patch workers are 8.5 times more likely than other private employees to be involved in work-related transportation accidents that result in death.
In a similar situation to the Zambrano accident, a fatal crash occurred on March 26, 2013. According to accident records, three workers were traveling to a hotel in a company van near Odessa. The men had worked 190 hours over the period of 14 days before the accident took place.
A Houston attorney representing the families argues driving while intoxicated is similar to driver’s impairment caused by fatigue. The accident was caused by the fracking crew driver’s error, confirmed police reports, but an attorney for the workers’ employer denies fatigue contributed to the crash despite the long hours the men had been working.
Interstate 20 has had 13 triple tragedies since 2010, twice the number of interstate 10 even though I-10 is a longer highway, which crosses Texas from east to west passing through San Antonio. Interstate 20 serves Midland, Odessa and other towns of the Permian Basin as well as the Barnett Shale in North Texas.
Even though Texas 72 is smaller, only 111 miles long, there have already been 21 fatal accidents since 2011, which include four involving triple or quadruple deaths. Texas 72 serves numerous oil boomtowns, which include Three Rivers and Tilden. Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby said of highway, “It’s called death row because we’ve had so many accidents, all the trucks go along it, and the road’s narrow. … It’s dangerous out there”.