Ontario Provincial Police are continuing to investigate after a detached wheel flew into the windshield of a minivan on Highway 401 in Scarborough, killing the 24-year-old driver.
Police say the driver of the van, who has now been identified as Toronto resident Christian Romero-Mancilla, was headed east in the express lanes of Highway 401 between Markham and McCowan roads at around 7:30 a.m. when a wheel smashed into the windshield of his vehicle.
Emergency crews responded to the scene and Romero-Mancill was subsequently pronounced dead.
According to investigators, a Ford pickup truck towing a trailer was heading west on the highway at the time when a wheel from the trailer separated and bounced into the eastbound lanes of Highway 401, hitting the minivan.
The driver of the pickup truck continued on for a few kilometres before pulling over in a safe location.
Police say they have spoken to the driver and investigators are currently examining the vehicle for all possible mechanical issues.
“The wheel fasteners appear to have been loose for a period of time and it worked around the holes in the wheel rim itself to make those holes larger than they ought to be and that working back and forth has snapped the wheel studs off,” Acting OPP Sgt. Dan Hunter said at the scene on Wednesday afternoon.
“We do have our truck inspectors looking over the vehicle for other potential defects.”
Hunter noted that charges will likely be laid under the Highway Traffic Act.
“There is a charge under the Highway Traffic Act for losing parts and specifically losing wheels from commercial motor-vehicles,” he said.
“There is quite a range on the penalties. I've seen those penalties go from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars and it is up to the courts to assess that fine.”
He said it is still possible that criminal charges could be laid in connection with the case.
“That is where our case manager, who is overseeing the reconstruction team, (will) follow where that evidence leads. They are going to get in to things like vehicle maintenance records and when did it last have service done and who did that work,” Hunter said.
“If that path leads them down towards a negligent behaviour then that's the way that goes.”
Hunter noted that it would have been nearly impossible for the driver of the minivan to avoid the collision.
“Based on the impact and the damage that I saw to the minivan, it must have been airborne when it was hit because the damage was to the windshield, not to the front bumper,” he said.
“If the average person takes three-quarters of a second to recognize there is a problem, and another three-quarters of a second to react to that, I'll bet this driver didn't have that.”
He urged all drivers of both commercial and passenger vehicles to inspect their equipment before getting on the road.
“Even if it is just a visual check,” he said. “The wheel that came from that (trailer) is not much bigger than a passenger tire. It really goes to emphasize that anybody's wheel, if it comes off, can do this kind of damage if it gets hit just right and that's exactly what happened today.”