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Fatal crash inquiry focuses on gas fumes

Did a truck's exhaust leak help cause a wreck that killed 3 people? Officials aren't sure, so the truck's driver likely won't face charges.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published July 12, 2003

RUSKIN - Carbon monoxide fumes leaking from an exhaust pipe in his 10-ton truck might have left driver James K. Scheffler so disoriented Wednesday that he confused his gas pedal for the brakes and slammed into a Mercury Grand Marquis, killing three generations of one family.

The 1973 Ford truck, belonging to Southern Septic & Sewer of Ruskin, also had bald tires and broken springs, according to the Florida Department of Transportation and traffic homicide investigators from the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

Investigators cannot say with certainty that the exhaust leak or other truck defects caused the crash, so 70-year-old Scheffler likely won't face criminal charges.

"We'll take everything to the state attorney, but it doesn't look like enough for criminal charges," Lt. Rod Reder, Hillsborough Sheriff's Office spokesman, said Friday.

Cleo "Trudy" Broome, 66, died with her 47-year-old daughter, Janis Creason, and her 32-year-old granddaughter Amy Creason when Scheffler drove through a stop sign at the Interstate 75 exit at Sun City Center and slammed into the Mercury, eastbound on County Road 674.

Investigators cited Scheffler, a career truck driver and longtime employee of Southern Septic, for going through the stop sign and for operating a vehicle with unsafe equipment.

It is the fifth time since 1998 that Scheffler has been cited for driving defective or unsafe equipment. Adjudication was withheld in two cases, but he was found guilty in 1998 and 2002, state records show.

Scheffler and Southern Septic owner Dean Driggers did not return phone calls Friday.

Jim Long, director of operations and safety for the Florida Trucking Association in Tallahassee, said there are industry rules meant to keep faulty trucks off the road.

The federal government requires annual inspections for any truck of more than 10,000 pounds, and drivers must go through an inspection before taking trips, Long said.

"They're not supposed to operate it if there's a situation that could affect the vehicle's safety," he said. "But there will always be bad apples in an industry as large in this one."

The loss of Trudy Broome, her daughter and granddaughter is being felt throughout Ruskin and especially on Meridian Street, where Trudy and Dean Broome have lived since the mid 1960s.

It's the kind of place where a girl can fall in love with the boy next door and marry him years later, as the Broomes' daughter Sheila did when she married Troy Burdick. .

"That little community has grown up raising each other's kids," said Sandy Council, a business owner who taught some of the Broome children in her six years at Ruskin Elementary. "So losing three people like that - everybody on that street feels like they lost their own."

Trudy Broome stayed close to her neighborhood, Council said, and was dedicated to her role as a wife and stay-at-home mom.

"She always saw them off in the morning and was there when they came home," Council said.

Mrs. Broome had four daughters - Janis, Sheila, Tammy and Trena - and a son, Mike, who died in 1981 at the age of 20. Mrs. Broome's husband, Dean, is retired from TECO Energy Inc.

Janis Creason left Ruskin for the Atlanta area 25 years ago, but she followed her mother's example by rearing her children with dedication and passion, said Creason's former husband, Larry Foster, father of Amy Creason and 27-year-old Jon Creason.

He described his daughter Amy as a very loving person.

[Last modified July 12, 2003, 02:03:26]


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