Trouble in tow: Crash survivor urges drivers to properly secure trailers

It was the evening rush hour and Jeanne Krieg was headed home from her job in the south metro when she was struck by a runaway trailer.

It's a day she doesn't want to remember, but will never forget.

"I could be dead, I could be paralyzed," she said. "There's this thing coming at me that looks like a tornado, slams into the front of my car and I feel it go around the side."

At the time, she had no idea what had just smashed into her car and left her with a mangled right foot. She learned later that a trailer had come loose from a truck traveling in the opposite direction. 

The pick up's driver slowed to watch it sail across the grass median, then took off from the scene of the crash.

When Krieg arrived at the hospital doctors found a bone sticking out from the inside of her ankle, using a metal plate and screws to put it back together.

"She's not completely out of the woods yet," said Krieg's doctor from Twin Cities Orthopedics, Dr. John Tanner. "This is something where arthritis can crop up and become a bigger problem for her as she gets more active and is trying to use her ankle more."

She was laid up for eleven weeks, was unable to drive and missed a lot of work, requiring months of physical therapy.

It's hard to know how many people have been killed or injured by runaway trailers in Minnesota--The state currently doesn't track the numbers.  
The Fox 9 Investigators obtained traffic cam video which shows one trailer breaking free on I-94  near downtown Minneapolis.
It starts going in one direction, then pivots and explodes through the concrete wall in the median.

"It's like a missile, it's not slowing down," said Joe Heyman from the MN State Patrol. "It's going to go in whatever direction it's going to go and it could kill somebody."

He said the crashes have a common cause: People are in a hurry or they're distracted and they don't hook up their trailers correctly.

The Fox 9 Investigators went to the Minnesota Highway Safety Center in St. Cloud to get a lesson in runaway trailer physics.

At 55 mph it becomes unattached and shoots off the road, going hundreds of feet before coming to a stop. After that, it's simple physics--the bigger the object, the more devastating the force.

"It's like a missile coming at you," said Instructor Larry Nadeau. "What you saw on a closed course is how much energy is involved when something comes unsecured from a vehicle."


State law requires trailers weighing over 3,000 pounds be equipped with breakaway brakes to keep the trailers from flying all over the road if they come loose.

A cable hooks between the tow vehicle and the trailer, pulling a switch to activate the brakes if it comes loose.

It's a good backup, but the system is far from perfect.

According to hundreds of trailer inspection reports from the State Patrol, the most common violations include faulty breakaway brakes, along with defective coupling devices or missing safety pins to hold equipment in place.

Oscar Ruiz Marin is responsible for the runaway trailer that smashed into Krieg's car. He turned himself in to police and pled guilty to failing to stop for an accident and for using an unsafe trailer.

"I'm sorry that it happened," he said. "I don't know what else I can say, you know. Is there anything else I can do?"

He admits he didn't check the hitch before he drove the truck, saying he didn't stop when the trailer came loose because he panicked.

Marin was also cited for driving after revocation of his license and without insurance, leaving Krieg to foot the bill that insurance would normally cover.

According to Krieg, her out of pocket expenses are approaching $5,000.

Despite all she's been through, Krieg said she forgives Marin.

"He actually showed up in court, which I'm surprised by," she said. "I know he didn't wake up that day and say I'm going to try and kill or hurt somebody--but he was negligent."