CHP: Hitch in fatal crash involving pizza oven too weak

CHP investigators are recommending charges after they determined an oven owned by Rosso Pizzeria was not properly secured before it detached from a pickup, killing a Vallejo man.|

The hitch on a trailer carrying a pizza oven that disengaged, careened across Lakeville Highway and smashed into a car, killing the driver, was not strong enough to pull the weight of a 3,950-pound pizza oven owned by local restaurant Rosso Pizzeria, CHP investigators said.

Two additional features required by law were not in place that might have prevented the Aug. 8 crash that killed Dwayne Usher, 32, of Vallejo and injured his two sons, ages 4 and 8, as well as a woman in the front passenger seat.

Spring-loaded safety chain hooks were not engaged, Officer Jon Sloat said.

Plus, the custom-built trailer did not have an independent brake system, required for a rig of that weight, that automatically engages should a trailer become unhitched, he said.

The CHP on Friday released its findings regarding the 7:20 p.m. Aug. 8 crash on northbound Lakeville Highway near Old Lakeville Road No. 3.

Driver and Rosso employee Edward Jacobson, 46, of Petaluma faces possible charges of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without negligence, Sloat said. If convicted, Jacobson could face up to a year in jail, according to the state vehicle code.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the CHP’s report to determine whether any charges will be filed against Jacobson. Sloat said prosecutors and CHP officers were still working on finalizing some aspects of the investigation.

The trailer and hitch system is supposed to have three connections, meant to be redundant in case of failure, Sloat said.

The trailer’s hitch coupler - the extended part of a trailer that lowers into the ball hitch at the rear of a vehicle - was rated to pull 3,500 pounds, 450 pounds less than the weight of the pizza oven, Sloat said.

“The coupler failed because it was not sturdy enough for the weight of that trailer,” Sloat said.

Investigators also found the safety chains on metal pins that are supposed to connect the trailer and hitch weren’t connected, he said.

“If the safety chains were attached properly, they’re supposed to have spring-loaded clips that assure they will never come off,” he said. “That wasn’t present.”

Jacobson was behind the wheel of a 1997 Chevrolet van pulling the trailer when the trailer came loose and careened across the road. He was returning from an event that evening when the trailer detached, Rosso co-owner Kevin Cronin said at the time.

Usher was stopped on Old Lakeville Road No. 3 in a silver Honda Accord when the runaway trailer smashed into his car, crumpling its side and flipping Usher’s car onto its roof.

Usher died at the scene. His 8-year-old son, Devin, was flown to Children’s Hospital Oakland, and his 4-year-old son, Anthony, was treated at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and released. The passenger, Ariel Motta, 34, of Vallejo, also was treated for her injuries.

The third required back-up safety feature that is supposed to prevent that type of runaway is an independent braking system, Sloat said.

Trailers of this weight are required to have a wire that connects to the front vehicle that activates the trailer’s brakes if it detaches.

“It didn’t have that,” Sloat said.

Neither Jacobson nor Cronin could be reached for comment Friday night.

Sloat said regardless of who connected or built the trailer, it is incumbent on the vehicle’s driver to assure his vehicle is in safe working condition.

The District Attorney’s Office will ultimately determine whether Jacobson bears criminal liability for the wreck.

Sloat said this kind of incident is exceedingly rare.

“In 17 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

Staff Writer Lori A. Carter contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@press? On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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