Fatal tanker rollover prompts calls to action to improve safety on the Dalton Highway

 Photo courtesy of Dawn Foster
Photo courtesy of Dawn Foster (KTUU)
Published: Aug. 27, 2018 at 8:30 PM AKDT
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Truckers making the often dangerous trip up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay are calling for action to improve safety on the road.

The latest call for action follows the death of 50-year-old Joy Wiebe, a long-time truck driver in Alaska, who was killed in a rollover crash Friday morning.

Wiebe was an independent owner and operator making a haul up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay. According to Colville, the business she was driving for, she was hauling a 53-foot tanker with 9,700 gallons of diesel fuel when her truck went off a soft shoulder and down a steep embankment near Franklin Bluffs. The force of the impact caused the tanker to flip. Wiebe died at the scene.

The crash has left many unanswered questions for those who worked with Wiebe.

“The one comment that has come out of everybody's mouth is what an incredible driver that she was,” said pilot truck driver Randi Matheson. “She was never the type to ever take a chance. She was always safe.”

One long-time friend of Wiebe says she was one of the most professional drivers on the road.

“The legacy of a strong female driver,” said pilot truck driver Deb Baker. “There aren't very many female drivers up here. And man, she was one of the better drivers, too.”

Matheson says truckers driving the Dalton Highway are planning to hold a meeting next week. She says they will sign a petition calling for better road maintenance to be delivered to the state Department of Transportation.

“We have great road crews up there, but yes, I think the contributing factor is the lack of maintenance up there,” said Matheson.

Meadow Bailey with DOT says budgetary cuts have decreased maintenance personnel. She says there are seven maintenance camps on the Dalton, and each camp is responsible for about 65 miles. This time of year, they focus on keeping the road smooth.

“We always are working as hard as we can to make all the roads across Alaska as safe as we can,” said Bailey. “There is an inherent risk in driving. We're always open to suggestion, though.”

But apart from the mystery surrounding the crash, one thing people seem to agree on is the impact that Wiebe had on their lives.

“She was always very polite and was a pleasure to work with,” said Bailey. “It was one of those crashes that really hit home.”

“I met Joy a few years ago,” said Matheson. “I'd seen her walk in the Coldfoot. I said ‘You must be Joy!’ I introduced myself, and she gave me a big ol' hug.”

“She's one gal I too will really, really miss,” said Baker.

Colville Chief Executive Director Dave Pfeifer issued a statement after the crash, saying in part “Colville is mourning the tragic death of one of its employees in an accident involving a fuel tanker. The Colville family mourns the passing of Joy Wiebe, 50, who died in an accident at mile 382.5 of the Dalton Highway near Franklin Bluffs, about 31 miles south of Deadhorse. Wiebe lived in Fairbanks and leaves behind a husband and children."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the tanker was 59 feet. The story has been updated to reflect the accurate length of 53 feet.