Investigators in western Des Moines suburbs have released final details from their investigation of a fatal crash between a car and a fire truck on November 20. Sixteen-year-old Ericka Schwager of Bondurant was critically injured in that crash, and died five days later.
West Des Moines Police Lieutenant Jeff Miller says the reports shows the driver of the car was going between 30 and 35 miles per hour, they’ve concluded, and Fire Engine Number 170 was going “at or below 35 miles an hour.” The fire engine had its emergency lights on, and every other vehicle, except for Erika’s car, was either slowing down or stopped. The fire truck was northbound on a city street, responding to a fire alarm at a westside shopping mall.
Miller says as they entered the intersection, the light for the northbound vehicles was red, and the traffic light for east and westbound traffic, including the teenage driver, was green. Like many urban traffic systems, West Des Moines has lights that can be re-programmed with a remote-control “pre-emptive device” that’s supposed to turn all the stoplights red when an emergency vehicle’s approaching.
The lieutenant says in this case, Fire Engine 170 had such a pre-emptive device, and as it was responding to this alarm the device had been used. It had worked properly, changing the lights at other intersections but for some reason did not change the lights all to red at the intersection where the fatal crash occurred.
The Lieutenant says, “Vehicles need to yield to the fire engine, or any emergency vehicle with its lights activated. In this case the other vehicles that were going in the same direction as Ericka, and the same direction as the fire engine, they did see the lights and sirens, and they did yield to the engine.”
The West Des Moines Police Department has been in contact with the Polk County Attorney’s office, and Miller says no charges are anticipated in connection with the crash, adding, “the West Des Moines Police thoughts and prayers go out to Ericka Schwager’s family, this is a very tragic accident and we don’t want anybody to go through things like this.” The 16-year-old girl’s funeral was held last week.