Criminal charges could be filed in Tooele runaway semi crash as report finds brake failures

Jan 12, 2024, 3:58 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm

TOOELE — Police released the full report Thursday from a gravel truck crash in Tooele in November, giving insight into what may have caused the semi to plow through town, hitting dozens of vehicles, injuring several people, and exploding into a ball of flames at a car dealership.

The truck lost control on that afternoon of Nov. 3, right as school was getting out and downtown was busy with people heading home.

Merilie Gonzales was driving to pick up her son from the high school and turning onto Main Street from 400 North.

“He was going fast enough that I didn’t see who hit me. All I saw was black smoke,” she remembered.

Surveillance video showed the truck slamming into her car. Two months later, Gonzales was still shaken up as she recalled what happened.

“It’s changed my life,” she said. For one, she can no longer drive down Main Street. Gonzales is also still dealing with her injuries. She said doctors had to restart her heart in the hospital because of an erratic heartbeat. She said the crash left her heart and lungs bruised.

“I still have nightmares. It’s pretty scary,” she said.

She knew the truck’s brakes had gone out, which is what police reported to the public on the day of the crash but Gonzales had no idea until Thursday what else may have led to it.

According to the report released by police, investigators found that “…approximately 80% of the trailer braking system was not functioning correctly… many of the brake systems were likely in a deteriorated state before the accident.”

The company’s owner, 59-year-old Alan Strickland, told police he had purchased the trailers used from his brother. He said that the trailers had just been worked on the weekend prior.

“This work was done at his house by his kids… He was also not sure of all the work that was done,” the report stated.

The driver, 29-year-old Moab Stapley, who is identified in documents as Strickland’s stepson, told police he had done safety checks before driving and didn’t notice anything concerning.

He described realizing the brakes weren’t working as he drove into town past the Taco Time. Stapley would continue driving out of control, honking his horn to warn others and crashing into cars for about two miles until he careened into the dealership.

Strickland “did attribute inexperience on the driver’s part to the accident” when talking to police about the actions Stapley took.

The Tooele City Attorney’s office is currently screening the case against Stapley and Strickland. Police are recommending misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment against each person.

“I just think, gosh. That was all preventable. It was all preventable,” Gonzales said, of the findings. “All it took was maintenance.”

Considering the alleged cause, Gonzales said she’s blessed she and no one else died. She said her seatbelt saved her life, and the fact that she wasn’t a few more inches further into the intersection.

Even so, she’s still dealing with the pain from the terrifying moments.

“I survived that,” she said. “But emotionally I’ll never be the same.”

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Criminal charges could be filed in Tooele runaway semi crash as report finds brake failures