KETK INVESTIGATES: Woman’s death exposes dangers of fatal crashes involving trailer hitch hazards

Special Reports

TYLER, Texas (KETK)- Many East Texas drivers could be at risk on the road due to hitch hazards.

On March 8, 49-year-old Kelly Hall, a Tyler mother, was killed by a loose trailer that was attached to another person’s vehicle. Since her death, KETK has uncovered that recent changes to Texas inspection laws may be one of the reasons people are vulnerable.

Cliff and Kelly Hall got married in 1991, and when Cliff met his future wife, he instantly fell in love.

“She just had a sense of boldness and confidence about her,” said Cliff.

He mentioned Kelly gave herself to everything she did. She made sure her children, who she homeschooled, had every experience a kid could want.

“If they wanted to play sports or I wanted to go to prom. She was going to make sure that we never felt left out or different,” said Katy Seale, Kelly’s daughter.

Her kids also added that Kelly’s presence was inescapable. But now, that presence is sorely missed.

“We used to make fun of her. We can hear her like in the other room in the house, like laughing at a TV show or something. How I would give anything to hear her laugh now,” said Katy.

In March, Kelly was driving on Toll 49 when a food trailer became unhitched from a truck driving the opposite way. This struck her car head-on and killed her.

According to a preliminary report from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the trailer was never fully secured to its hitch. Also, the safety chains failed to stop the trailer from separating from the truck that was pulling it.

“It’s wrong that all these people are killed by the same factor,” said Ron Melancon, an advocate for trailer safety reform.

This accident is a consequence of deeper problems, he added.

KETK News spent weeks trying to find out how common these dangers are and discovered a serious roadblock.

There’s no public data for how many people are killed by unsecured trailer or failed safety chains. In Texas, those problems aren’t being counted.

Law enforcement are required to fill out a form when a crash is reported. There are over 100 codes to describe what went wrong, including whether an animal that caused a crash was wild or domestic.

But, the only code related to trailers is for a defective hitch. Any additional issues are put into the “other” category. This leaves crashes such as the one that killed Kelly nearly invisible in statewide reports.

“Why is that data so difficult to apprehend and get a hold of,” said Melancon.

He also mentioned the gap in accident statistics means the only information available on trailer deaths in Texas is the number itself. This is around 55 annually, averaged over the last several years.

However, the exact details of these wrecks and deaths are unavailable.

Chad Parker is a personal injury lawyer. He said under Texas law, there is no specific criminal offense for neglecting to secure a trailer that ends up killing someone.

“You know, it’s left to the prosecutor and whatever political pressure is brought or not brought or whatever feelings he or she has about it to decide whether to bring a case,” the lawyer mentioned.

If not, the case against a driver could be settled in civil court or it could never make it to the courts at all.

Therefore, the decision to do what’s right is left up to the people towing trailers.

Rodney Wooten has been transporting trailers for most of his life. He shared advice on the proper way to hitch a trailer.

People should always make sure the hitch matches the size of the ball, install a safety pin and cross their safety chains.

Trailers also typically get inspected. But, a Texas law that required annual inspections of all trailers weighing more than 4,500 pounds was recently changed to 7,500 pounds. This excludes trailers such as the one involved in the crash that killed Kelly.

“If we had the law in place at getting every trailer over 4,500 pounds inspected, I do believe there is a possibility that Mrs. Hall would be here today alive,” said Melancon.

Months later, Kelly’s family continues to hold onto their precious memories. Whether it was having lessons with their mother or receiving one of her many detailed scrapbooks carefully preserving every family moment.

Cliff also found his wife’s prayer journals, and he was surprised. There are several books filled with dozens of names per page of people Kelly was praying for.

“It just blew me away because I had no idea that she was really that passionate about that. And, I know that made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives,” said Cliff.

Kelly’s faith, now gives her family comfort.

“I have hope I’m going to see her again. We’re all going to be together someday… and there’s a lot of comfort in that and peace in that,” stated Cliff.

The Hall family has hired an attorney to look into the crash, and they are considering a wrongful death lawsuit.

DPS also told KETK News they’re passing along the case to the Smith County District Attorney, who has the authority to file criminal charges against the driver of the trailer that killed Kelly.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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