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School District 20: Plow truck lacked specific safety equipment in fatal crash Tuesday

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Some people are asking about the safety of the Ford F-250 truck that was being used as a snow plow in the aftermath of its driver dying from a crash Tuesday morning.

Stephen Houston, a 27-year-old grounds technician with Academy School District 20, was killed when the truck crashed into a ditch off Gleneagle Drive.

Late Wednesday afternoon, District 20 revealed that Houston's truck did not have "headache bars," a nickname for cab protector and designed to protect drivers and passengers from objects flying through rear windows.

Since the day of the crash, KRDO has received several comments from viewers asking if the truck was outfitted with that safety feature.

The Colorado State Patrol said Houston was struck by part of the salt-sand spreading machine installed in the truck bed, and that the machine broke loose from the impact of the crash.

KRDO's video of the truck, as it was being towed away, shows the rear glass presumably shattered with parts of the spreading machine speared through the window and into the cab.

Several viewers who watched KRDO's video said they saw no sign of headache bars on Houston's truck, or on other district trucks parked at the scene.

The district and a local truck expert agree that, surprisingly, headache bars are generally required on flatbed trucks but not pickup trucks.

"There is some debate about if they are effective," said district spokeswoman Allison Cortez. "Especially when the item in the back is large and/or heavy. They are mostly used to ensure that things like landscaping tools or construction tools don't fly through the glass of the cab."

Greg Budwine, owner of Ledom's Truck Equipment Shop, in Colorado Springs, said not installing the bars on pickup trucks is a personal choice for drivers.

"I have to assume that most of the time, that truck running around does not have a sander in it, and that sander's only in there in the winter time," he said. "So they didn't put a protector on there so that they could see better when that sander's not in that truck.  And that happens a lot."

Budwine said whether headache bars would have saved Houston's life depends on a variety of factors.

"I don't know how fast he was going, I don't know the hill that he went down," he said. "I didn't get to see any of that.  But it was a big enough impact that the airbags in the truck went off.  So there was a big enough impact and enough speed to create that to happen."

Cortez said the district has decided to install bars on an unspecified number of pickup trucks.

"If [they] could add an extra layer of safety, we want to move forward with adding them," she said.

Late Wednesday evening, Travis Easton, public works director for Colorado Springs, sent the following Twitter message in support of the district:

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.



  1. That black metal screen that is shown jutting into the cab in the bottom two pictures is not a “headache rack”, but is a debris screen cover for the sand hopper in the pickup bed. It looks like that screen was either not properly fastened down or the fasteners used utterly failed during the crash. I do agree that a properly installed headache rack could have given him a better chance of survival.

    1. A chance of survival is better than the outcome of this accident! Along with no headache rack it does not look as if the hopper was properly installed.

    1. If only Workman’s Comp law didn’t protect the district. Hoping for the family that someone other than D20 installed the hopper.

    2. If only, the district has complete immunity since worker’s compensation is sole remedy in the state of Colorado, even if there is negligence on the part of the district. Since Stephen had no dependents, as defined in law, so his family receives a maximum of $7k in funeral expenses, that is it. Nothing for the loss of their son. I know they would forego all the money in the world to have their son back, so that he could get married this August and be the best man for his brother in October. Rest in peace Buddy, we love you!

  2. So sad. RIP and condolences to his family and friends. Hoping an accident like this won’t happen again.

  3. The grate that went through the window is for when they drop loads of anti-skid in the back it breaks up the clumps. It should of been securely fastened to the hopper. Unfortunately I see many who just throw it up there and hope because of the weight it will just stay in place. Typically it does. BUT….Most manufacturers of the sand spreader do have a warning that it needs to be securely fastened down when the truck is in use because it can become a missile during an impact. Because it is routinely removed and re-installed some feel it is a hassle to fasten it down every time. It is the same concept of having and unrestrained passenger in your rear car seat. I have seen where a driver was killed by the rear passenger who slammed them into the steering wheel. The driver had his seat belt on. Very sad

    1. State Patrol has released very little info, you seem to have inside information regarding this crash and the specifics. How do you know the driver had his seat belt on?

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