On a clear and sunny day in Dinwiddie County in 2009, Caitlyn Johnson and her 10-month-old baby girl were blindsided. A trailer came loose from an approaching SUV. It rolled out of control, down the road, and tore through her Honda.
Caitlyn did not make it. Her baby survived.
Photos from the impound lot show her car sitting side by side with the two-axle trailer, turned projectile.
It had a gross vehicle weight over 3,000 pounds and by Virginia law was required to be inspected. It wasn't. It was required to have brake away breaks, but didn't and the trailer was hooked onto the wrong size tow ball.
Investigators wrote on the State Police crash team report, "If the trailer had been properly secured to the towing vehicle, the crash probably wouldn't have happened."
"It's heartbreaking, because it's all preventable," said Henrico native Ron Melancon.
He can spot a busted, homemade trailer a mile a way. Melancon is the region's - possibly the country's - biggest watchdog when it comes to utility trailers. He emails newsrooms daily and keeps extensive records.
"When you see a problem occurring over and over again. We're supposed to address it like adults and find solutions to the problem," said Melancon, who feels like no one is listening.
He constantly snaps pictures from around Central Virginia of overloaded trailers, safety chains dragging on the road, trailers with bald tires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates since 1975 around 400 people a year die on US roads in trailer accidents.
In Virginia, the smaller and very popular utility trailers have no mandatory inspections.
"It's up to the public or the user of the trailer to make sure it's hooked up properly," said Senior Trooper Jaime Rose.
"You've got 3,000 pounds on it and you add the weight to the trailer, it could do some damage." Trooper Rose showed us exactly what you have to do to keep yourself and other safe. "You need a secondary locking mechanism. This lever would be your primary, that actually locks on the ball of the hitch underneath. The secondary would either be a pin that just goes through and latches."
Or you can use an actual lock. You must have a chain between the trailer and your vehicle. You're required to have two reflectors on the back of mesh trailers or reflecting tape.
Virginia actually has some of the strictest laws in the nation. But tragedies like Caitlyn's, has advocates asking lawmakers to go further: mandatory inspections on all trailers each year.
"There should be some universal stands that we all agree to, that every person that makes a trailer, manufacturer or whatever, has to follow," said Melancon.
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