This is the fourth and final installment in the “Suicide by truck” series, examining the largely undocumented incidents of pedestrians and four-wheelers who choose speeding trucks as an instrument of suicide. It also looks at how these suicides and suicide attempts affect innocent truckers, many of whom struggle with guilt or horrific memories. Click here to see other stories from the series.
John Jaikes’ story
John Jaikes of Nanticoke, Pa., an owner-operator with 26 years of driving under his belt, had been through hard times that included bouts of cancer.
Yet nothing prepared him for what happened July 21, 2013, at 1:10 p.m.
He was unloaded and driving on a two-lane road when he saw an oncoming pickup truck moving erratically. He remembers wishing the pickup would stay in its lane. Then the pickup’s driver turned his truck straight toward Jaikes’ Kenworth.
“You do what you are trained to do if something is coming into your lane,” he says. “You grip the steering wheel and maintain your lane.”
The pickup slammed into him, jackknifing Jaikes’ truck. The pickup driver survived with serious injuries. The police and witnesses believed it was a suicide attempt, though the driver claimed he fell asleep.
Jaikes had some injuries, but his truck was destroyed, and insurance barely covered the loss. Jaikes’ log books, phone records and equipment were scrutinized. Even his neighbors were interviewed about his character and driving habits. The police and the tow-truck driver reassured him there was nothing he could have done differently.
“I forgave him but still don’t understand why someone would want to use an innocent trucker to cause their own death,” he says. He dealt with the emotional issues, but he’s still petrified when he sees a vehicle veer out of its lane.
Though Jaikes was cleared of all wrongdoing, his insurance rates went up. “I was his victim,” he says. He says he may consider using a dashcam for the evidence it could provide in such instances.
What the counselor hears
How do most truckers react when they have been drawn into a suicide by truck?
There are various layers to the impact a trucker feels when he’s involved in a crash suicide fatality. Usually, there is survivor’s guilt. Why me? What could I have done differently?
How common is it to experience post-traumatic stress disorder?
Some feel sadness and various degrees of anger. If they also have religious issues around suicide or have experienced a personal loss from suicide, the feelings can intensify. Some are so traumatized that they can’t drive. Others take it more in stride and don’t suffer as deeply. But all the ones I’ve talked to wondered if they should leave trucking.
What’s going on in the mind of a suicidal person?
In the clients I have had who have contemplated suicide by truck, they think, “I’ll just drive into a truck.” Like suicide by rail, the desirable method is what is most available. It’s not personal against the trucker. Never have I had a client say, “I want to ruin that driver’s life.” They think of the truck as a means to an end. Suicidal people are not thinking about others.
What resources are available?
Adding to the heartbreak of the situation is that truckers are underserved by the mental health profession. They can’t meet with therapists during regular work hours, and few therapists offer weekend hours or live chat/phone therapy. There are free mental health clinics and services for veterans. Suicide hotlines are a good resource as well.
If you need help in locating counseling services in your home area, call the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration help line: 877-726-4727. Another resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.