Imagine speeding down the freeway when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a semi-truck tire hurtles toward your car. In the past, such...

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Imagine speeding down the freeway when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a semi-truck tire hurtles toward your car.

In the past, such incidents were rare. But in recent weeks, a Bothell man has been killed and several cars have been damaged in five separate accidents involving tires coming off of semi-trucks.

“It is unusual to have an incident when you have a commercial tire come off a vehicle and hit anybody,” said State Patrol spokesman Jeff Merrill. “To have five occurrences in the last month is just bizarre.”

Merrill said each accident was caused by a different mechanical failure, making it difficult to detect any sort of pattern.

“These types of failures most likely wouldn’t be discovered in a routine vehicle inspection by law enforcement,” he said. “These are failures that may have been picked up in maintenance or shop mechanics.”

But Larry Wilson, owner of the Democon Container Services truck that lost its tires and caused an accident that killed the Bothell man last month, said often there is no way for a company to know when a truck might lose a tire.

“We spend $50,000 to $60,000 per month on maintenance. I think if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. It’s Murphy’s Law,” Wilson said. “It’s tragic. There’s nothing I can say that can make it better.”

Ron Heusser, who has been in the accident-reconstruction field more than 20 years, said he’s never seen so many accidents caused by truck tires.

“It’s not common at all for wheels to come off,” said Heusser, who owns Engineering Accident Analysis in Kent. “Typically, it’s either a bearing failure that comes from lack of grease, oil or over-torquing or loose lug nuts.”

Heusser is working with Democon and the State Patrol in reconstructing the fatal accident.

John Ellis, 31, was killed instantly May 11 after the van he was riding in was struck by a set of dual tires that came off a Democon Container Services truck on Interstate 5 near the Duwamish curves. The Democon truck lost a brake drum, which caused the truck’s rear dual tires to come off, bounce over the freeway median and strike the van traveling in the southbound car-pool lane.

Two days later, tires came off a semi on Highway 202 near Fall City and sideswiped cars on Highway 202. No one was hurt, Merrill said.

On Tuesday, troopers responded to a 911 call involving a semi-truck’s tire that had struck a car on Interstate 90 near Issaquah.

A Nissan Sentra was struck by dual tires that sped toward him as he was driving on I-90. The 19-year-old Tacoma man wasn’t hurt, but his car was damaged, Merrill said.

The 49-year-old Seattle man driving the Iowa-based Ruan Transport truck that lost the tires was cited for having defective equipment and was required to make full repairs before continuing on I-90.

Wednesday afternoon, the tires fell off a semi-truck while it was traveling north on I-5 at Michigan Street in Seattle, Merrill said. The truck was in the far right lane, so the tires rolled off to the shoulder. No other cars were hit.

Wednesday night, an Issaquah man called 911 to report finding a large semi-truck tire on his patio.

The tire came off a semi on I-90, which is a few blocks from the man’s home, bounced off the roadway and struck the roof of a nearby house — causing damage — before destroying the man’s patio furniture, Merrill said.

According to a 1992 analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), wheel- separation accidents made up a small percentage of all highway truck accidents in 1989 and 1990. The NTSB study is the most recent into wheel-separation accidents.

The analysis came from Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota and Washington — the only states that tracked accidents involving tires that came off semi-trucks, said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz. Those states reported 274 truck accidents those two years.

The NTSB thinks that, of the total 349,000 truck accidents on U.S. highways during that period, fewer than 1,050 were the result of tires coming off, Lopatkiewicz said.

The State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division is looking into whether there is anything it can do to stop such accidents. But, Merrill said, it’s doubtful.

“Really, there is nothing you can do to avoid it. We ask drivers to pay attention to debris and pay attention to traffic around you,” he said. “We still contend this is a unique series of events.”

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com