As police investigate the death of a woman thrown from a hay wagon Saturday, a Kentucky agriculture official says there are few laws concerning safety on farm vehicles.
Terri Hurley, 44, was killed after a wagon carrying 30 people on a Mercer County farm jackknifed on a hill. Investigators have said the tractor pulling the trailer began to slide coming down a hill and the trailer then jackknifed. Hurley was thrown off and struck by a trailer wheel. She was taken to James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital in Harrodsburg, where she was pronounced dead of head and chest injuries.
Five other people suffered non-life-threatening injuries, a deputy coroner said.
Kentucky State Police are waiting for toxicology reports of the driver.
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Dale Dobson, head of the Farm Safety Program through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said the state does not have any regulations concerning who can operate farm vehicles.
"There are no laws, and we don't need any laws," he said.
Dobson said the death rate from farm-equipment accidents has decreased from 50 a year in the mid-1990s to 13 or 14 a year in the late 2000s. The safety program educates farmers on how to prevent accidents and trains emergency responders on how to handle accidents.
"We educate that it is your life, your family, your farm and your responsibility," Dobson said.
Ron Melancon, a former emergency medical technician in Richmond, Va., collects information regarding deaths and accidents involving trailers and farm vehicles, and he said changes need to be made in Kentucky law. People often don't know how to work lights or connect a trailer properly, he said.
"A lot of trailers out there are in bad condition," said Melancon, who runs the Web site www.dangeroustrailers.org. "There is no training in how to drive one with people in it; they are meant for cargo."
Melancon said the crashes occur because many wagons used by families are homemade and do not require a license to operate.
"Nobody is verifying what you are building is safe," he said. "We are using 1930 laws in 2010."
Mark Purschwitz, an extension professor in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said that when a wagon or trailer jackknifes, it is usually because the tractor pulling the wagon could not handle the load.
"People think the tractor just needs to be big enough to pull the load, but it also has to be big enough to stop it," said Purschwitz, who specializes in farm health and safety through the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention.
Because farm work is often shared among a family, including children, Purschwitz said, regulations probably won't change because of deep-held farm traditions.
"There are so many variables and so many different situations that occur with farm work, so the tradition has been to leave it as an issue of personal responsibility," he said.
Melancon began his Internet project in 2003 after he rear-ended a trailer while driving his ambulance. He said the trailer was black with wire mesh and the lights were so low he couldn't see them. He was found not guilty in the collision, began researching trailer accidents and realized how many people were at risk for injury or death because of improper use of farm vehicles.
According to data he has gathered, Melancon said, more than 400 people a year are killed in trailer accidents in the United States. He said people might not realize the frequency of farm-vehicle accidents.
"Newspapers report a freak accident here and a freak accident there, and no one notices it is a national problem," he said.
Purschwitz said calls for reform on farm-vehicle regulations usually come from people outside the world of agriculture. He said some people want to require a license to use farm equipment, while "old-timer" farmers respond that they began operating tractors well before their teen years.
"There has to be a middle ground," Purschwitz said.
Melancon said he has pushed for new trailer laws in Virginia and is pushing for change in other states. Hearing about Hurley's death only reinforced his desire to reform state regulations.
"It is horrific, and it bothers me," he said.
Hurley was a meter reader for American Water Co. She is survived by her parents, Harold and Patricia Ann Hurley of Harrodsburg, and a brother, James Harold Hurley of Burgin.
Services will be conducted at 1 p.m. Thursday at Immanuel Baptist Church in Danville. Visitation begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the church. Ransdell Funeral Chapel in Harrodsburg is in charge of arrangements.