Woman killed by recycling truck in what police say was an accident

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 19, 2022

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — The driver of a GFL Environmental recycling truck that struck and killed a 68-year-old Grosse Pointe Park woman isn’t expected to face charges in connection with the accident.

A joint investigation between Michigan State Police and the Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Department determined that the driver wasn’t at fault in the accident, which happened at around 11:30 a.m. Dec. 2 in the 1300 block of Somerset Avenue.

Park Public Safety Director Bryan Jarrell said the victim, who had recently moved to the area, was running outside to take her trash to the curb because she thought she had missed trash collection for the week. Workers were actually collecting recyclables at the time.

“She ran right in front of him — he didn’t see her,” Jarrell said of the recycling truck driver. “He was found not responsible, not at fault.”

Park Detective Sgt. Jeremy Pittman concurred, calling it “just a tragic accident.”

Pittman said the truck was stopped when the victim walked in front of it. She didn’t realize the vehicle was about to move and when it started to pull forward to go to the next stop, the 3-ton truck hit her before she could get out of the way. Police were able to review video evidence that showed the crash.

Pittman said these large vehicles have controls that the driver can operate from either side.

“The driver of the truck couldn’t see her because he was driving from the passenger seat,” Pittman said.

The victim, who lived across the street from the crash scene, is believed to have been killed almost instantly.

“She was completely unresponsive upon our arrival,” Pittman said. “At the scene, she had no pulse.”

Public safety officers were called to the scene on a report of a woman underneath a recycling truck, according to a police report. The victim was formally pronounced dead as a result of her injuries by the medical team at Ascension St. John Hospital, where she was transported after the accident.

Pittman said the Michigan State Police’s accident investigation team was called to assist in the investigation. He said the city calls on the MSP for any serious injury or fatality, because of the resources and technology the MSP can bring to a case like this. Pittman said MSP was able to do an accident reconstruction, during which they determined that the driver would have been unable to see the victim when he pulled the truck forward.

Pittman said GFL Environmental was “very cooperative” with investigators, as was the driver, who “cooperated fully” with police.

“He was very shaken up,” Pittman said of the driver’s response to the accident. “He was very upset.”

Officials from GFL Environmental were unable to provide any comments at press time. They did release an official statement after the accident, which reads: “GFL Environmental is fully cooperating with investigatory agencies and cannot comment further at this time.”

Because drivers of recycling, trash collection and other large vehicles may not be able to see pedestrians who are too close to them, Pittman recommended that pedestrians and cyclists try to stay at least 20 feet to 30 feet away — even if the vehicle is stopped — because these vehicles can start moving again at any time, as was the case here.

“When you’re going to cross in front or behind a large vehicle, give them a wide berth, because the driver can’t see you,” Pittman said.

Large, heavy commercial vehicles also can’t stop as quickly as smaller passenger vehicles.

A spokesperson for AAA-The Auto Group offered advice for pedestrians with regard to large commercial vehicles, including encouraging people to stay on sidewalks or in crosswalks, when possible, and being prepared to step back on street corners in case a bus or large truck runs up onto the corner of the sidewalk when making a right turn.

In addition, the spokesperson said by email that AAA recommends the following: “Stay out of the blind spots — or no-zones — around trucks and buses when walking near them. Always assume the driver does not see you. Never walk behind a truck while it is backing up; truck drivers cannot see directly behind the truck and you could be at risk.”