By Randy Grider
In the past four years we’ve published a number of stories urging truckers to remain vigilant in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. While it’s true that our nation’s drivers are a huge asset in fighting terrorism, dangers along the highways are certainly not limited to foreign threats.
Most drivers are well aware they work in dangerous environments. Traffic and weather alone are enough. Factor in scams and the potential for violent crime, and drivers should be able to justify hazardous-duty pay.
But some dangers of the road are just cowardly acts that make no sense whatsoever. In the early morning hours of July 5, a group of teenagers ambushed a tanker-truck with rocks and fireworks near an Atlanta housing project. The trucker pulling the tanker, 29-year-old Rafael Diaz Jr., was struck in the face by a bottle rocket, which caused him to wreck. The tanker was loaded with 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel, according to media reports.
What happened next was even more disturbing. The youths beat and robbed the injured trucker. Diaz’s injuries were so critical that he required brain surgery to save his life. At least two of the teens involved in the incident have been charged as of press time.
While the assault on Diaz after he wrecked makes this crime a little unusual and grossly violent, incidents involving objects being thrown at moving vehicles are not uncommon. And for truckers, it’s a type of crime that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
In April, trucker Richard Rodriguez, 44, of Crucible, Pa., was killed after a piece of concrete, tossed off an I-70 overpass in Indianapolis, crashed through his windshield and struck him in the chest. One person was charged with reckless homicide in the case. In July, another trucker’s rig was hit by an object thrown off an overpass in Indianapolis. He was unhurt.
In late June, a trucker reported to Kansas City, Mo., police his windshield was shattered by a heavy object thrown from an overpass along Interstate 435. Fortunately, he too was not injured.
Each year, there are numerous reports like these across the country. The projectiles include everything from water balloons to rocks to bowling balls. Many incidents continue over an extended period of time and cease only after someone has been hit, hurt or killed.
As a young child I can remember my dad, a long-haul trucker, hating Halloween because kids would often throw pumpkins and other objects at trucks from highway overpasses. He had his truck hit on a couple of occasions, luckily escaping with little more than a cracked windshield.
When I started transporting cars to Chicago and Orlando, Fla., in my early 20s, occasionally I heard reports on the CB of truckers being hit by junk tossed from overpasses and bridges. It made me take a closer look at overpasses as I approached areas where the reports had originated. I was especially leery late at night when traffic was light.
I know the majority of these type crimes are perpetuated by youngsters. I guess boredom, stupidity and a lack of understanding of just how deadly their actions can be factor into why they think this is entertainment. But that by no means makes these acts of stupidity justified.
Many states have passed or strengthened laws concerning objects thrown at moving vehicles. Most violations are felonies if someone is injured or killed; otherwise it’s a misdemeanor. I think all cases of throwing objects at motorists should be felony offenses. The seriousness of the crime warrants that. It’s no different from firing a gun into a crowd of people.
Just as drivers should keep an eye on suspicious people who may be planning or carrying out a terrorist act, they should report pedestrians acting strangely along roadways and on bridges and overpasses.
The driver’s life you save may be your own, or it could be the one you see in your side-view mirror.