Public Safety

Truck-into-home crash wasn't first for Iowa semi driver, records show

Monday's crash into Marion home part of history of traffic violations

Contributed photo of 1799 Iowa 136 in Elwood, Iowa. This home was crashed into by a semi truck being driven by James Ward on November 24, 2002.
Contributed photo of 1799 Iowa 136 in Elwood, Iowa. This home was crashed into by a semi truck being driven by James Ward on November 24, 2002.
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When a semi-truck crashed into a house in Marion on Monday, it wasn’t the first time the driver had been involved in crashing into a home.

In the past 16 years, James R. Ward, 70, of Center Junction, has been cited five times in Iowa for failure to maintain control. Two of those citations were issued in connection with wrecks into houses — one was Monday’s incident in Marion and the second is from 2002 when Ward crashed a semi-truck into a home in Elwood, Iowa.

Court records show that on Nov. 24, 2002 — just before Thanksgiving — Ward was cited for failure to control a vehicle in Clinton County. The Quad City Times reported Ward crashed a semi-truck loaded with corn into the first-floor bedroom of the Elwood home, owned by Violet “Vickie” Washburn and her husband, Newman Washburn.

The Gazette reached out to Ward, but he declined to comment.

Violet Washburn told The Times she was in the kitchen, talking on the phone, and her husband was napping when Ward’s semi-truck plowed through the bedroom where Newman Washburn was sleeping on Nov. 24, 2002. The impact cracked the structure and knocked the home off its foundation, The Times reported.

“The truck just missed the bed where my dad was sleeping, and the roof came down on top of him,” David Washburn, son of Violet and Newman, told The Gazette Wednesday. “Dad had to be dug out of the rubble.”

Emergency personnel had to use the Jaws of Life to get the home’s doors open so their parents could get out, said Mitzi Washburn-Koranda, David’s sister.

Violet Washburn was about 74 at the time and Newman Washburn was 85, Washburn-Koranda said, adding her father had severe arthritis in both knees and was not able to get around well.

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Both were taken to the hospital where her mother was treated for anxiety and panic attacks and her father was treated for minor injuries. Ward was also taken to the hospital and treated for minor injuries.

When they got the call about the wreck, David Washburn said he and his sister raced to their parents’ house. Ward was still on the scene when they arrived, he said.

The two men spoke briefly, David Washburn said, and he recalls Ward telling him what happened.

Video of the Crash in Marion

“He remembers driving on the road and the next thing he knew, he was awake, lying on the floor of his cab and the truck had hit the house,” David Washburn said Ward told him.

Four months after the Washburn home was destroyed, court records indicate Ward was found guilty of failing to maintain control and fined. That was the first in a string of traffic violations in Iowa.

In November 2009 and again in May 2014, Ward was cited for failure to maintain control, according to court records. The 2009 incident occurred in Jones County, while the 2014 citation was issued in Cedar County. Little information was available about the incidents, but he pleaded guilty in both cases and was fined.

In March 2015, Ward was again cited for failure to maintain control. This time, he was driving a black 2008 Chrysler Seabring around 9:40 p.m. in the area of Center Junction. Two months later, he pleaded guilty to the charge and paid a fine of about $200.

The most recent citation came Monday after Ward allegedly lost control of his semi-truck at about 5:15 p.m., crashing into a residence at 1551 County Home Road, knocking the home off its foundation and sparking a fire.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office said Ward sustained minor injuries while the homeowner, Rodney Peyton, and tenant, Michele Burke, were able to escape unharmed.

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Peyton told local news outlets he was working outside in the yard when the truck careened off the road and hit the house.

Burke was inside the home, according to Peyton, but was in another part of the building from where the truck struck.

Once she was out of the house, Burke said she went to see if the truck driver was hurt. She recalled Ward allegedly stating he blacked out and didn’t remember what happened.

“How does this man still have a license?” David Washburn said. “He has hit two houses. Most drivers don’t hit one house in their lifetime, and he has done it twice. I believe he’s a danger to the public and needs to get off the road before he kills someone.”

Andrea Henry, director of strategic communications and policy for the Iowa Department of Transportation, confirmed Ward is operating on a valid commercial driver’s license. The standards for a commercial license, she said, are higher than those of a standard license.

Henry said having two major incidents, such as a drunk-driving offense, would permanently cost the diver his commercial license.

As for Ward, Henry said, “In reviewing Mr. Ward’s record, it shows that anytime his driving privileges have been in question he has done what was necessary to maintain or restore those privileges. When the official report (for) this most recent incident (in Marion) is received by the Iowa DOT, we will review it for any necessary action in regards to his driving privileges.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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