Kaseem Smith, the garbage truck driver whose truck launched off I-95 and landed in a public Miami park, remained in critical but stable condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center on Tuesday.
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said Smith was nearing the end of his shift after completing a recycling run when he lost control of the truck and it flew through a concrete barrier, landing about 100 feet below.
The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting an investigation into why the bizarre accident occurred.
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"We can't figure it out. There are skid marks, but no other vehicle was involved," said Alfonso.
One person familiar with the city's sanitation department said the city's garbage truck and recycling fleet added a system called Drivecam a couple of years ago after managers found a troubling trend.
"Guys were talking on cells and having accidents that weren't reported," the source said..
There was no indication Tuesday that Smith was on his cell during the incident.
Drivecam, which serves as sort of a “black box” on the truck, could help investigators determine what caused the accident. It works by recording whatever is going on in the interior of the cabin and constantly erasing that information. Up to 15 seconds of information before a driver slams on the brakes and after an accident can be retrieved.
Alfonso said the device was extracted and recovered from the tangled mess at about 10 p.m. Monday, almost five hours after the accident. He said he's heard from the company that runs the system that Monday's accident wasn't sent in. But he's hoping a recording of it can still be retrieved.
At the scene on Monday, residents were relieved that no on had been killed.
“Words fail me except to say we are blessed that it was on a day like today,” said Rosa Maria Plasencia, CEO of Amigos for Kids, which on school days hosts an after-school program for about 100 kids at the park. “That little area is a very small closed street where cars can park and turn around, and it leads right to the playground.”
The ramp was shut down after the dramatic crash, which clogged rush-hour traffic as drivers ran agog from their vehicles to stare down at the ground below.
“He just came flying down from the highway,” said FHP spokesman Joe Sanchez.
The truck landed on its wheels with its big, blue trash bin overturned and leaning against a walkway wall. It was near a playground and pool at the park, 362 SW Fourth St., shortly after a group of high school friends finished a game of three-on-three basketball at the park. The impact of the crash sent debris and shrapnel flying.
“Basically, we heard what sounded like an explosion,” said Matheos Cremonese, 15, one of the ball players. “Then we looked up.”
The garbage truck didn’t topple, Cremonese and three friends said, but plummeted onto the park’s parking lot. Jorge Fuentes, 16, another ball player, said that usually the park would be filled with younger children playing in the after-school program. But it was relatively empty because of the holiday.
“Thank God for Presidents’ Day,” Fuentes said.
Smith, the driver, was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center and listed in serious condition Monday night, according to Miami Fire Rescue.
“He is lucky to be alive,” said Miami police spokesman Rene Pimentel.
Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, who represents Little Havana, rushed to Jose Martí Park after the crash. He said city waste trucks are equipped with video cameras on the front and rear, which should shed some light into the accident.
Carollo said there hadn’t been any decision made Monday evening on when to reopen the park. But he said authorities told him the exit ramp would remain closed until the massive gap in the concrete barrier could be repaired.
City Manager Alfonso said the truck was a city of Miami vehicle and that Smith worked for the city’s Solid Waste Department. He said the city is in contact with Smith’s family: “We’re praying that he recovers and he’s fine.”
Miami Herald Staff Writers Doug Hanks, David Smiley and Carli Teproff contributed to this story.