Big-rig driver charged with vehicular manslaughter in 14-car pileup

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A big-rig driver has been charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter for allegedly causing a 14-car pileup on the 210 Freeway, killing two men.

Cheryl Ann Blacksmith, 56, allegedly failed to notice cars stopped in front her on Nov. 18, 2010 and rear-ended the vehicles on the eastbound lanes of the freeway near Mountain Avenue in Upland, according to a police report contained in her court file.

The first vehicle she struck, a 1993 Ford F-150 pickup, overturned and became lodged in the front end of Blacksmith’s big-rig. The pickup caught fire and was pushed by the big-rig for the duration of the pileup.

Two people in the pickup burned to death. Alfredo Lopez Gonzalez, 47, and Jorge Alfaro, 27, were pronounced dead at the scene and were identified through dental records.

Blacksmith, of Mojave Valley, Ariz., has pleaded not guilty to the two felony counts. She is free on $100,000 bail and is next due Oct. 13 in West Valley Superior Court.

Blacksmith told a California Highway Patrol officer that in the 24-hour period preceding the crash, she and her husband exchanged driving duties traveling from Wagon Wheel, New Mexico to Carson, where her truck was loaded with goods to be delivered to New York City.

She was on her way to Barstow, where she planned to refuel, when the traffic collision occurred at about 6 p.m., according to the police report in her court file.

Thirteen vehicles besides Blacksmith’s big-rig were involved in the collision, and two people were hospitalized.

Blacksmith, who estimated she was driving 55 mph, said “she was unsure if ‘people’ were stopped in front of her, but all of a sudden she was crashing,” the report said.

Blacksmith told an officer she was not sleepy or impaired or distracted on her cellphone, and she said the only medication she had taken was for high blood pressure. An officer noted Blacksmith’s apparent lack of impairment.

“At the time of this interview I noted no abnormalities with Blacksmith’s behavior and or any indication of an impaired mental state,” the officer wrote in the report.

Blacksmith told officers her big-rig had no mechanical problems. She said that about three weeks prior to the crash, her brakes were replaced and new tires were installed.

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