A thin metal ring designed to keep truck wheels tightly secured was missing from a tractor-trailer when two of its 18 wheels slid off last week on Interstate 10, bounded across the highway and struck a Tulane University senior at a Mississippi rest stop, killing her, according to a state transportation official.
The absence of the locking ring, a $3 part, likely led to the freak accident that killed Margaret “Meg” Maurer near Gautier on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, said Willie Huff, director of the office of enforcement of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Gautier police requested a state inspection of the big rig following the fatal incident, in which police said the two conjoined wheels traveled nearly 300 yards before striking Maurer and coming to rest another 150 feet away.
Maurer, a 21-year-old Minnesota native, was headed with Tulane classmates in two cars from the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans to a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.
Huff said the metal ring — a 3-inch locking washer — was missing when inspectors unpacked the outer hub of the wheel assembly following the fatal incident. It is one of two rings that Huff said are meant to lock in place the large nuts holding the wheels in place. Only one ring was found, he said.
The conclusion that the missing metal ring was to blame for the lost wheels was still preliminary, Huff said.
Huff said the missing ring would not have been detected in the kind of unannounced roadside inspections that are logged into the federal database.
“To inspect that truck for that deficiency, you’d have to take all the wheels off the truck,” he said.
“It’s also something that probably would not be noticed with a pre-trip inspection or roadside inspection unless the wheel is wobbling. More than likely, this wheel wasn’t wobbling. It just slipped off.”
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