Robert J. Penny, 41, of Pantego, was killed Thursday morning when his 18-wheeler, hauling a piece of heavy equipment, ran off County Road 4599 west of Boyd.
According to state troopers, Penny was traveling east about 8 a.m. when he ran off the right side of the road, overcorrected and drove through a fence on the left side. The truck jackknifed, and the driver, who was not wearing a seat belt, was hurled into the passenger side where he hit his head on an electrical pole by the open window resulting in fatal head trauma. No other vehicles were involved.
Justice of the Peace Mandy Hays arrived on the scene less than half an hour after the wreck to pronounce Penny dead.
The road is south of the Texas 114 and Farm Road 51 intersection currently under construction. Penny had just left Cottondale where he was working that morning. Penny’s boss told investigators he was probably driving on the narrow county road to avoid the construction.
It was the reason witness Chelsi Moran said she was on the road. She was headed west when the accident occurred.
“I just came over the hill, and all I saw was a cloud of dust,” Moran said. “I jumped out of my car and ran over to him screaming ‘Are you OK?! Are you OK?!’”
It appeared Penny was killed instantly by the impact. Skid marks blackened the county road. Debris from the 18-wheeler littered the side of the road plowed up from the impact. A headlight was buried in the dirt, and a silver fender glinted in the sun. The white cab finally came to a rest against the power pole and a rusted pipe fence.
“All I can do is pray for him and his family,” Moran said as she looked back at the wreckage. She was still visibly shook up over what she witnessed. “I never even take this road. I just decided to cut through on it this morning because I don’t like that intersection up there.”
Chanda Friddle, who lives near the scene of the accident, said she sees a lot of truck traffic traveling on this road at a high rate of speed.
“There are a lot of rock trucks that come through here all the time,” Friddle said. “A lot of people use this road as a shortcut.”
Since she moved there last year, she said the speed limit has been raised from 30 to 45 miles per hour. This is a concern for her because her seven children regularly play outside.
“We’re practically a day care out here,” she said.
She said she’s asked the county to put up a “Children at Play” sign.
When that didn’t happen, she put her own sign up complete with little handprints of her children.
“I was soon told that’s not allowed,” she said.
Still, she worries about the speed of drivers on the road, especially now that more people are using the road as a shortcut.
“I would like to see this road patrolled more,” she said.
Trooper Bobby Marquez said he doesn’t know what caused Penny to veer off the roadway.
“He wasn’t wearing his seat belt, and he would have been ejected but he hit the pole instead,” Marquez said.
Penny’s body was sent to the medical examiner’s office to see if anything else played a role in the accident, such as a medical condition.