By RICK A. RICHARDS
ATTICA, Ind. — Three family members were killed on Halloween when the minivan they were in was hit by a 10-row John Deere combine not far from the town of Attica, in west-central Indiana. Three other people – two family members and a friend – were seriously injured and have been hospitalized.
Detective Jacob Amberger of the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department said the wreck happened on a wide open stretch of Indiana 25 near County Road 800 South at 4:48 p.m. He said the combine, driven by Carl McFarland, 36, of nearby West Point, did not come to a complete stop at the intersection, moving onto the two-lane highway and into the path of the northbound minivan.
Amberger said a preliminary incident report indicates there were no drugs or alcohol in McFarland’s system. He said after McFarland was examined at the hospital, he was arrested and taken to the nearby Clinton County Jail, where he was wanted on a warrant from an unrelated civil matter.
“I’ve been on the department for 10 years, and this is one of the worst crashes I’ve seen,” said Amberger. He said in all his time on the department, he can recall only one other wreck involving farm machinery, a property damage accident a decade ago when a car rear-ended a tractor.
The minivan last week was nearly flattened and wedged underneath the corn picking heads of the combine. “Where the accident happened, there was at least a half-mile visibility in all directions,” he said. “There were no obstructions of any kind.”
Amberger, a member of the department’s fatal accident reconstruction team, said the investigation is still under way.
Killed in the wreck were Daniel Fox, 62; his wife, Stacy, 40; and their 15-year-old daughter, Demara. Injured were sisters Demetria, 17, and Dakota, 13, and family friend Margaret Carpenter, 18.
All are from Attica, about 10 miles from the accident scene.
The three injured teens were all taken to Indiana University Arnett Hospital in Lafayette and, after evaluation, Demetria and Dakota Fox were airlifted to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
Bill Field, a farm safety expert at Purdue University, said the accident that happened just southwest of the campus is rare in Indiana. In 2011, he said there were 16 farm-related fatalities, three of which happened on highways.
Even though the Halloween crash has drawn much attention across the state, he doesn’t expect it will have much of an impact on changing Indiana’s traffic laws. He said he has several times proposed creating a program for farm equipment on the state’s highways, but each time was told there isn’t an interest in such a program in Indiana.
A 2009 study, Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads, done by the Committee on Agricultural Safety and Health Research and Extension, showed fatalities involving farm equipment on the nation’s roadways were just 0.2 percent of the total number of vehicles involved in accidents.
That study was done by a consortium of 13 land-grant universities, including Purdue and those in Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USDA.
Among the key items examined in the study was an apparent lack of concern by public officials, at all levels of government, over the safe movement of agricultural equipment on public roads.
Another issue is the rapid urbanization of agricultural land. As suburbs creep out from city centers, farmland is being converted into subdivisions, putting more traffic on roads that once were used almost exclusively by farm equipment.
The most common farm-related traffic accident is a rear-end collision, when motorists driving up from behind misjudge their closing speed.
Other worrisome situations involve left-turn accidents, when motorists pull out to pass farm machinery as it makes a left turn, and a crossroads collision like the one on Oct. 31 in Tippecanoe County.
The study said, “Farm operators transporting agricultural equipment face a challenge of taking their slow-moving equipment across an intersection. This becomes even more challenging when the cross traffic is moving at a high speed.”
Finally, the study indicated two-way traffic on rural roads isn’t compatible with today’s farm equipment. Typically, a rural road is 18-20 feet wide, yet the 2009 study shows 70 percent of farmers had equipment that was more than 13 feet wide.
Amberger said at press time he doesn’t yet know if any charges will be filed against McFarland, but added he didn’t think there will be criminal charges. If there are any charges, he said they will likely be traffic citations.