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Sun blamed in 1 death, 2 collisions

Two workers were struck by a car, one fatally, and a pickup hit a school bus, injuring 12, in separate southwest Iowa incidents.


Article re-printed from the "The Des Moines Register" Sep. 18, 2004
The Des Moines Register is hereby acknowledged for the content.
Copyright © 2004, The Des Moines Register.

Investigators say the morning sun temporarily blinded a teenager whose car struck two men, fatally injuring one of them, in Greenfield.

The sun was also blamed for a collision between a pickup truck and school bus that injured a dozen elementary school students near Coin.

"I've seen sun glare before, but this was exceptional. The sun looked like it was about three inches off the road," Greenfield Police Chief Austin O'Brien said Friday. "I know it was a factor, no doubt in my mind. You get to a certain point of the road and it hits you all of a sudden."

This is the time of year when the sun's glare is particularly dangerous for drivers and pedestrians.

Ralph Bouwmeester, a Canadian safety consultant and recognized expert on the challenges that sunshine and shadows pose for motorists, said the problem is at its worst for two or three weeks before and after Sept. 4 and April 6, when the morning and afternoon sun aligns with east-west roads. (See September 16, 2004, Register article.)

Thursday's accident in Greenfield happened about 7:15 a.m. as Steve Forcht, 51, of Stuart, and Cory Queck, 34, of Fontanelle, removed a tarp from a truck at the glass company where they work.

"They were at the side of the road, between the trailer and the highway, possibly on the highway," O'Brien said. An eastbound car driven by Jennifer Johnston, 16, of Greenfield struck the men.

Forcht was killed. Queck was taken to a Des Moines hospital. He was expected to be released late Friday or today.

No charges were filed.

The bus crash occurred about the same time when the pickup, driven by Gaylen Swanson, 51, of Coin, struck the back of a South Page school district bus that had stopped in front of a home, Iowa State Trooper Shawn McCunn said.

Swanson "reported that the sun was in his eyes and he did not see the school bus stop," McCunn said.

There were 24 students on the bus. Twelve were taken to area hospitals and treated for minor injuries.

Swanson also was treated for minor injuries. The driver of the bus was unhurt.

Officials in Greenfield were back at the crash site on Friday.

"You come up the hill and at a certain point it looks like an atomic explosion," O'Brien said. "It even blinded me when I was going out to the accident."

Jim Miller, one of the owners of the glass company, called Forcht "a very popular employee, in a good mood all the time, always smiling."

Forcht worked for the company 18 years as maintenance manager.

"We have over 600 people here, and everybody liked Steve," Miller said. "Everyone is very sorry, depressed and sad."

Contact Info:

Ralph Bouwmeester, P. Eng.
R. Bouwmeester & Associates
Barrie, Ontario Canada
Phone: 1-705-726-3392

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