I'll outline the most recent deaths below, but first an explanation of why this is a problem (otherwise known as 'DontWakeMeUp for Dummies.'). This all started in November 2010 while I was sleeping when my partner was ticketed at a weigh station in Devine TX. The police forced me to wake up, get out of the sleeper, and show them ID under threat of arrest. In this case, I recorded both officers while it happened and I filed both state and federal civil rights complaints within a week. Less than one month later The Texas Department of Public Safety admitted wrongdoing in writing on behalf of the two officers. The admission letter, dated December 20, 2010 and signed by Captain Kenneth Plunk of the Waco Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, stated that "corrective action was needed" against both officers and that "additional training has been taken." I then filed a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit against the troopers for damages, permanent injunction, and to dissuade them from continuing this blatantly illegal practice. One of the documents released in initial disclosures revealed an internal POLICE MEMO from TX DPS officially admitting that "The passenger is under no obligation to comply with request" for ID. If anyone is still confused about whether cops can wake you up in the sleeper, you're a lost cause. Goodbye. Everyone else, continue reading.
Here is a collection of the most recent tragedies where police are killed by fatigued drivers. 28-year-old Trooper James Sauter, who had been a trooper since 2008, was conducting a traffic stop in Illinois when a big rig driver fell asleep and plowed into him, killing him instantly. The Sun-Times reported
"The report indicates the truck that hit Sauter was traveling south at 11:04 p.m. on I-294 at mile 48.5, while Sauterís car was parked on the left shoulder... Police wrote that the truck driver fell asleep, veered left and hit Sauterís cruiser in the rear, killing Sauter... Sauter was taken to the Cook County medical examinerís office while his body was still trapped inside the car. It was towed in procession, and dozens of police officers and state troopers stood at attention as firefighters later cut him out of the wreckage." [Truck driver fell asleep at the wheel in crash that killed trooper, report.]It was described as a "fiery crash" and police say "we will probably be seeking higher charges" against the driver, who survived. Officers from 25 states reported attended Sauter's funeral, and a facebook tribute page has been established in his honor. Here is a Photo gallery of his very elaborate funeral. ABC news reported
"Tuesday, State Police Director Hiram Grau promised an examination of ways to increase trooper safety. "Maybe increased enforcement," he said. "Maybe come up with some ideas for legislation. But we'll be meeting to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Illinois State Trooper Kyle Deatherage was killed in a similar type crash on Nov. 26, 2012. Deatherage, a 32 year old motorcycle trooper, was at a traffic stop on I-55 near Litchfield. The truck driver, 52 year old Johnny B. Felton Jr. of Hinesville, Ga., was driving for Dot Transportation Inc. and reportedly "lost consciousness" before the crash. He has been indicted by a grand jury and charged with "reckless homicide." He's being held on $250,000 bail and faces 17 years in prison if convicted.
Stltoday.com reported "According to the charging documents, Felton was operating a 2013 Volvo truck at a high speed and failed to change lanes or reduce speed after seeing Deatherageís emergency lights. He then traveled across the white line on the right side of the road and struck Deatherage... Deatherage was pronounced dead at the scene" and leaves behind a wife and two children. The widow has filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employer. [See Truck driver charged in Illinois trooper's death. Another article outlines charges against the driver, who is "a 25-year veteran of the armed forces who rose to the rank of sergeant and commanded 80 troops."]
In Texas, two officers were hit and one killed by a big rig driver who fell asleep. It occurred on I-10 near Kerrville in Central Texas on Friday April 26, 2013. Officers Larry Candelari and Mike Huffman, both 49, were off-duty and returning from a hunting trip when they stopped to help a stranded motorist. the 18 wheeler then crashed "into the parked vehicles on the right shoulder of a bridge." The Houston Chronicle reported
"The 18-wheeler comes barreling down the road and doesn't hit the brakes until he hits vehicles," said Andy Lewis, who witnessed the accident. No charges have been filed and the wreck remains under investigation. Crash investigators did not suspect the driver of the 18-wheeler of being intoxicated, but said he might have been impaired by fatigue."
Officer Candelari went over the side of the bridge and died and Huffman was severely injured and had to have one leg amputated. Candelari served in the U.S. Marines for five years and in the Pasadena Police Department for 24 years, most of that on the S.W.A.T Team. Hundreds of mourners attended Caldelari's funeral on May 3rd. Candelari's sons Alec, a U.S. Marine and Seth, a police officer, both spoke at the service.
The truck driver, 33-year-old Jorge Espinoza of Yuma was arrested and charged with one count of manslaughter, 14 counts of endangerment and 7 counts of criminal damage. Huffman, pictured here was 47 and had worked as a DPS officer for 14 years. [More information on this crash can be found here , here, and here.]
The two deaths of the Illinois officers have brought up memories of another Illinois Trooper who was killed in a similar manner from a fatigued commercial driver. On May 20, 1982, 35 year old officer Bernard D. Skeeters was killed by an 18-wheeler whose driver had fallen asleep and crashed into Skeeters on I-55 in Illinois. Details on the accident can be found here, along with many comments from Officer Skeeter's friends, family members, and sons on his memorial page.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer was seriously injured when a commercial truck driver hit his parked squadcar along I-75 at mile marker 152 in Campbell County on Sunday June 23. Trooper Joe Lindsay was on the scene of an earlier big-rig accident when driver Stewart Snedeker crashed into Lindsay and a tow truck. Snedeker reportedly kept going after the crash, but was later apprehended and is being charged with driving under the influence of an intoxicant or drug, multiple counts of reckless endangerment, vehicular assault, failure to exercise due care, failure to move over for emergency vehicles, possession of drug paraphernalia, leaving the scene of a crash with injury and failure to report a crash. Trooper Lindsay suffered a fractured vertebrae in his neck, a fractured rib and injuries to his arm. [Updated with mug: THP trooper struck by hit-and-run big rig.]
There have been countless other accidents where big rig drivers have fallen asleep and crashed their 80,000 lb. rigs. Some of those are fortunate enough not to result in deaths.
Two weeks ago on June 13, a Sleepy driver tipped over his semi on I-5 in Washington. KOMO-TV reported "The driver of the FedEx semi fell asleep as he drove in the northbound lanes around 3 a.m., said Trooper Keith Leary. When the semi drifted off the freeway, the driver awoke, over-corrected and the truck tipped over. Luckily, no other cars were involved and the driver escaped with a few minor injuries. The northbound lanes were blocked for about an hour as crews righted the truck and pulled the wreckage off the road."
On Saturday May 25, 2013, a trucker fell asleep and crashed his rig on SR-8 at SR-101 in Thurston County Washington. King5 News reported "Both eastbound lanes of SR-8 and one westbound lane were closed near Old Olympic Highway so the semi could be removed. Trooper Guy Gill said because the front of the truck was destroyed it was a lot more difficult to remove the wreckage. It took two tow trucks to remove it."
In Caldwell County Missouri, a Trucker Overturned after Falling Asleep at the Wheel on March 20, 2011 at 5:15am. Truck driver Pablo Herrera-Torres of Las Vegas fell asleep and drover his 2002 Freightliner off the road, overturning and blocking westbound lanes. Both him and his passebger were injured, but survived.
In Oregon, a Commercial trucker was cited for falling asleep at the wheel in Interstate 84 crash near Cascade Locks. 44-year-old Jeffrey Hale was driving a 2005 Sterling semi truck pulling two trailers and crashed into a parked tow truck at 1 a.m., inuring two people. Orgeon Live reported "Both vehicles became entangled and traveled approximately 200 feet before the commercial truck and trailers jack-knifed, blocking both westbound lanes... The crash closed Interstate 84 westbound lanes for approximately 3 hours. Hale was cited by OSP for careless driving. Troopers identified fatigue as the primary factor in the crash."
A FedEx truck crashed in Florida on June 12th just after 3 a.m., scattering packages across I-4, closing eastbound lanes and causing gridlock for more than four hours. MyFoxOrlando reported on an additonal crash immediately afterwards: "About two hours later, while the first crash was being investigated and I-4 eastbound was still shut down, a second semi accident occurred that spilled fuel on the interstate. Troopers say a 2001 Volvo semi driven by Roberto Alejo Garcia was heading east on I-4 west of Kathleen Road when it failed to slow for stopped traffic. It dodged the traffic but collided with a guardrail and jackknifed, spilling up to 150 gallons of fuel on I-4. Garcia suffered minor injuries and was wearing a seat belt, FHP said. Charges are pending in that crash." Another single commercial vehicle crash in Florida had the Big rig cab teetering over I-4 embankment on June 17th. Like most of the others, the crash occured at 2:30 a.m.
On March 2, 2013, 43-year-old David Alvarez fell asleep while driving at 3 a.m. and crashed his big rig on I-10 at Oak Valley Parkway in Beaumont, CA. The Banning-Beaumont Patch reported "After first sideswiping a car parked along the eastbound shoulder, the truck then managed to drive nearly 100 yards off the freeway, as it crossed not only a grass/dirt median on the right side the freeway lanes, but also crossed the eastbound onramp at Oak Valley Parkway, according to CHP Officer Trevor Cahill and on-scene reports. The truck eventually crashed into an eucalyptus tree and perimeter fence on the other side of that onramp, splitting into multiple pieces. A load of lettuce was spilled all across the shoulder, as was diesel fuel and oil. Cahill said the driver told CHP investigators he thinks he fell asleep, and at this point, "there are no witnesses to the contrary" of his story... he was cited for an "unsafe turning movement," which resulted in the crash, according to the officer."
This past Saturday June 22, 25 year old Gerard Watson of College Park, Georgia was tragically killed when the Freightliner truck he was riding in overturned on Interstate 40 near Grants, New Mexico. Watson had been sleeping in the sleeper berth and was ejected from the vehicle. Oddly, Watson, who was known as Gerard 'Bear' Watson, had recently featured as the profile photo on his facebook page a picture of a crashed big rig. The driver of the truck, Gary Eden, 61, of Phoenix, was arrested on an outstanding warrant. KRQE reported "The crash happened near mile marker 87 just west of the State Route 117 exit to Quemado and Grants. I-40 was shut down for more than seven hours as traffic was diverted to NM 117 around the crash site."
Regarding new rules for truck drivers taking effect July 1st, the article Truck Driver Hours Limited notes
"Safety is the main reason for changes to the number of hours truckers can log behind the wheel... According to the FMCSA, more than 3,600 traffic deaths in 2010 were large truck fatalities. "Chronic fatigue can be a major component of severe crashes and manly in this regulation change hopefully it will cut some of the chronic fatigue among drivers," said Sergeant Ira J. Whitehead from Alabama Dept. of Public Safety. Federal officials say the new regulations could save 19 lives a year... After the new regulations take affect on July 1st, analysts say there will be an additional 100,000 truck drivers needed."
Fatigued commercial drivers are not just a problem in United States. In England, a truck driver who caused a crash after falling asleep at the wheel has been jailed for three years. STV 14 reported:
"David MacDonald failed to take sufficient rest before the collision on the A9 road with a lorry being driven by Gordon Cooper, 57. MacDonald, 25, was driving north in a tanker when it began to drift across to the opposite side of the road before smashing into the other vehicle... The judge said: "The sentence cannot and is not intended to measure the value of the life of Mr Cooper."He told MacDonald that he had embarked on a long return journey between Elgin, in Moray, and Girvan, in Ayrshire, through the day and night without taking adequate rest periods. Lord Bracadale said: "The predictable result was you fell asleep at the wheel with devastating consequences. "All drivers must take care not to drive when too tired and for commercial drivers like you the regulations over rest periods are laid down with the specific purpose of preventing such catastrophic occurrences." Lord Bracadale said he accepted that MacDonald had shown remorse and was carrying "a considerable burden" over what happened and that he suffered serious injuries... He also banned MacDonald from driving for seven years...
In Ohio, a police officer fell asleep behind the wheel and hits three parked vehicles on June 19th while working the graveyard shift. The Port Clinton News Herald reported officer Terry L. Brown, 48 "was driving a 2009 Dodge Charger southbound on Bowman Road about 5:10 a.m. when it went off the right side of the road and struck three vehicles near the Carlisle Crest Apartments on Carlisle Hill. A Jeep Wrangler, a Honda Accord and a Ford Explorer were struck by the Charger, and two of the vehicles were pushed onto the sidewalk. All of the struck vehicles received damage to the rear of the vehicle."
Police Chief Roger Moore added he was "'sorry' the incident happened, noting that "accidents happen every day," and that "t wasnít intentional." Davia Kraft, owner of one of the damaged vehicles, said she was upset because "the officer that hit my vehicle didnít apologize or anything," adding that she wants the city to take responsibility for the crash... 'If it were me (that hit a parked car), I would have to pay for it. All I want is my vehicle to be taken care of."
The issue of sleepy commercial drivers should now be clear. Drivers must follow rules set up by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Adminstration. More strict mandatory rules will take effect on July 1st.
This is an issue of vital importance. As I stated in my letter which was featured on OverdriveOnline.com, Not only is the right to undisturbed sleep a health, safety and legal issue, it is also a distinctively moral issue. This is spelled out on the dontwakemeup.org 'SHORT-VERSION' page, sort of a 'DontWakeMeUp for Dummies.'. Despite all this death and carnage, suffered by law enforcement officers themselves, many state and federal agencies stubbornly continue to insist on waking up sleeping commercial drivers for petty ID checks, while they are in their federally mandated 10 hour sleeper berth period. This blatantly illegal practice is literally insane and completely illegal. The Texas Dept. of Public Safety was even forced to admit in internal memos that "The passenger is under no obligation to comply with request" for ID." The TX DPS had also, in their November 2010 admission letter, stated that "corrective action was needed" and that "additional training has been taken." against the two officers who woke me up. [See also 'With New Federal 'Rest Rules' Taking Effect July 1st, Feds questioned on why they already violate existing rules.' ]
The Florida Highway Patrol is another agency that has continued this dangerous practice. Their spokesman Jeff Frost said hat his agency wakes up sleeping drivers regularly and that it is not a substancial interruption. In reality, any mandatory interruption while the driver is sleeping is illegal and a violation of the 4th Amendment. After publishing my expose, Florida law enforcement agencies including the Florida Dept. Of Law Enforcement (18.104.22.168), Florida Dept. Of Transportation (22.214.171.124) & Florida Department Of Management Services (126.96.36.199) scurried to my site and have continued to visit nearly every day for weeks now. They were even caught trying to cover their ass legally. They searched the terms "what federal mandate governs the department of highway dafety indentification requirements?" on June 19th, which ironically netted search results which returned them once again to dontwakemeup.org.
Marmor, who reportedly earns a salary of $57,504 with the Texas DPS, was hired on 10/31/95 and received a 'purple heart' from the agency after the wreck. Their website states
"On May 25, 1998, Tr. Kevin Marmor, while a HP trooper in Pearsall, sustained severe bodily injuries as a result of a traffic crash. Tr. Marmor had stopped a truck on IH-35 in Frio County and was searching the vehicle. An elderly driver became focused on the patrol lights and struck both the stopped vehicles and Marmor, throwing him approximately 30 feet through the air. Tr. Marmorís left arm was nearly severed, his right leg below the knee was shattered and two vertebrae were cracked. Marmor is currently a CVE trooper in Devine."
The video of the crash is even on youtube: TROOPER SURVIVES ROADSIDE SLAM! (1,397 views) and the description reads "Texas trooper Kevin Marmor survived this horrific accident after being struck by an inattentive elderly driver while searching a pickup during a traffic stop. The driver became focused on the patrol lights and struck both the stopped vehicles and Marmor, throwing him approximately 30 feet through the air. In 2006, he received the Purple Heart by the Texas Department of Public Safety."
Anyone who doesn't get it by now is a hopeless case. The safety of all Americans is at stake. Law enforcement officers nationwide must obey the law and leave off-duty sleeping truck drivers alone, before it's too late.
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Martin Hill's DontWakeMeUp.org Featured in Major Trucking Magazine OverdriveOnline.com:
NEW! I know you're busy. Here is the SHORT VERSION: Short and sweet, cut to the chase. Cops can not wake you up when you're in the sleeper and demand ID. If you're confused about this, read this page. If you're still confused after reading it, you're a lost cause.