State patrol: Flatbed trailer driver shouldn't have used Highway 53 route through Duluth

The flatbed trailer from which an improperly secured earth scraper tumbled off Wednesday had faulty brakes and shouldn't have been on that section of U.S. Highway 53 at all.

The flatbed trailer from which an improperly secured earth scraper tumbled off Wednesday had faulty brakes and shouldn't have been on that section of U.S. Highway 53 at all.

"With a load that big they need a permit. They did not have a permit," State Patrol Lt. Steve Pillsbury said this afternoon. "A permit would not have allowed them to come down Highway 53."

"The brakes were out of adjustment [and] we feel the driver probably wasn't familiar with the area so didn't know the road when he was coming down the hill, and the load wasn't secured properly," Pillsbury added.

Lazo Calixto, 44, of Hialeah, Ga., was driving the semitrailer, which is owned by R and P Heavy Hauling of Florida. Pillsbury believed Calixto was hauling the earth scraper from the Iron Range to Florida. Calixto's semi was the third of three traveling together.

The State Patrol's Commercial Vehicle Enforcement unit located one of the other trucks, but Pillsbury didn't know if the vehicle was inspected, or, if it was, what the findings were. A call to an inspector with the unit was not immediately re-turned.


Pillsbury said either citations or a formal complaint will be issued in the case, which resulted in several injuries and the closure of the left lane of northbound Interstate 35.

The accident happened shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday when the semi Calixto was driving hit three vehicles that were stopped at a red light at the base of the hill on U.S. Highway 53. Two adults and two children were transported to St. Mary's Medical Center after the accident.

James Jablonski, 22, of Duluth was in one of the vehicles, a 2000 Ford Explorer. He was treated and released.

Darci Trebil, 39, of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and two children ages 2 and 3 were removed from another vehicle. Trebil was trapped and had to be extricated from her vehicle and placed on a backboard. The Minnesota State Patrol said later that Trebil suffered no apparent injury. The 2-year-old suffered non-life threatening injuries, but the patrol did not have a condition update for the 3-year-old.

During the accident, the Caterpillar 631C tractor scraper, which weighs approximately 85,000pounds, fell off the flatbed trailer and plunged more than 40 feet to the ground below, clipping an elevated section of northbound I-35 during its fall. The impact damaged three of the five beams supporting the interstate. One 30-inch-high beam will have to be replaced.

"Our engineers down in St. Paul -- the structural designers -- are looking at that," Minnesota Department of Transportation district bridge engineer Pat Huston said this afternoon. "We are going to add that repair work onto a contract, but it will probably take two to three weeks of prep time and materials ordering."

Huston estimated the actual repair work will take about another three weeks.

Originally, it appeared that the left lane would remain closed until the repair work is finished. But after reviewing the damage and completing calculations to assess the structural integrity of the bridge, MnDOT engineers determined that the bridge can safely carry two lanes of traffic if the traffic is shifted to the right - using part of the shoulder as a traffic lane.


The shift will happen after new lines are painted on the road, Huston said.

Northbound I-35 traffic will again be reduced to a single lane when the actual repair work is conducted.

After the accident, the left lane of northbound I-35 was closed from just north of 40th Avenue West to beyond the accident site.

From 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. traffic was backed up past Central Avenue, Pillsbury said. Traffic was also heavier than normal on Michigan Street, too, as drivers avoided I-35.

"Tomorrow is the heaviest traffic volume day of the year because of people coming to register for Grandma's," Pillsbury said. "It could be a problem."

Grandma's Marathon organizers alerted its participants by e-mail about the lane closure, telling them to expect traffic delays.

Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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