Live OAK COUNTY — The Monday traffic death of South Texas truck driver Francisco “Frank” Perez was apparently a result of the injuries he suffered when he accidentally drove his freightliner truck — which was pulling an oil-based asphalt tanker—into the back of a Peterbilt truck partly stopped in the shoulder of travel along northbound Interstate 37, seven miles east of George West, reports show.
A fatality report completed by Texas DPS officer Laura De Luna identifies the driver who died at the scene as the 65-year-old Perez, a longtime resident of George West.
The report — released Thursday by the Live Oak County Sheriff’s Department — also provides specific details regarding the factors leading up to the 5:08 p.m. Monday accident.
Perez was traveling at 75 mph at the time of collision, officials said.
At the time of the collision, the 2008 Peterbilt was positioned with flashers and lights displayed partly in the right lane and partly on the shoulder of travel, near the I-37-US 59 exit, reports show.
The Peterbilt driver, Alejandro Berrones, 36, of San Juan, was directing traffic to move to the left lane while a “fog line,” a solid white lane used to determine the lane of travel in poor visibility situations, was being painted on the road by a colleague.
Perez — for an “unknown reason” according to Trooper De Luna —began veering toward the shoulder.
Once Perez realized his 2007 freightliner was moving toward the stopped Peterbilt, he tried to veer away from it but failed, authorities said. Perez could be seen applying his brakes and steering left, unable to stop.
Perez’s vehicle and freight load veered to the left lane and grassy shoulder where it came to a stop facing north. The unit then burst into flames. The cab of his oil-based asphalt tanker was engulfed, and the fire also sparked intense grass fires along the median.
The Peterbilt fared somewhat better after the collision, coming to a rest off the roadway. Peterbilt driver Berrones was not injured. But his colleague on the scene, Jesus Moya of Weslaco, was later treated and released for non-capacitating injuries. The report was unclear as to Moya’s location when he was hurt.
Perez was able to climb out of vehicle after the collision, but before he could be taken to medical attention he lay down on the ground at the scene and succumbed to his injuries.
All lanes of I-37 traffic, northbound and southbound, were subsequently closed for hours as firefighters fought the grass fires and law enforcement officials worked the accident scene.
Traffic was stalled for miles in all directions. Authorities were on the scene until roughly 10:17 p.m. (although southbound I-37 reopened before 7 p.m.)
Perez was a truck driver for many years for Mission Petroleum, according to his obituary.
His funeral is slated for Friday, Aug. 1, at St. George Catholic Church. Interment with full military honors will follow at George West Cemetery.
News of Perez’s death prompted dismay from area residents who had fond memories of the driver.
“So sad,” Linda Eddy Wientjes lamented on FB. “ I have known the driver for many years. My prayers for his family.”
Jessica Villarreal agreed.
“RIP Frank Perez — going to miss you in town on your Harley Davidson,” she posted.
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.