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Longtime owner of White's Travel Center, Lee Hi Travel Plaza passes at 71

Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, April 21, 2022:

Longtime owner of I-81 truck stops passes away

Bobby BerkstresserBobby Berkstresser (center) passed away April 14 at the age of 71. He previously owned the White's Travel Center and Lee Hi Travel Plaza along I-81 in Virginia. He's shown here in 2018 receiving an award from NATSO's Lisa Mullings (right) and Coffee Cup Fuel Stops' Tom Heinz.NATSORobert “Bobby” Berkstresser, the longtime owner of White’s Travel Center and Lee Hi Travel Plaza along I-81 until their recent sale to TravelCenters of America, passed away April 14 at the age of 71.

According to a press release from truck stop organization NATSO, Berkstresser opened his first truck stop 41 years ago when he was looking to buy a garage for his towing service. He purchased Lee Hi and turned the Raphine, Virginia, location into the largest travel plaza on the I-81 corridor. At the time of his death, the two locations and his other area businesses employed nearly 700 people and provided more than 700 truck parking spaces.

“Bobby’s energy and passion for our industry were unparallelled,” said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. “He gave generously of his time and knowledge, both with NATSO and industry colleagues. He never hesitated to help in whatever capacity he could when called upon. His loss will be felt deeply throughout the entire industry.” 

NATSO said Berkstresser sought to make his location a “destination” for truck drivers and became one of the first truck stop operators to open a pharmacy within a travel plaza. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began and state and local governments forced restaurants to close, Berkstresser adapted his operations to ensure truck drivers had food by moving his entire hot breakfast from the dine-in restaurant to take-out and opened his take-out restaurants earlier each day to accommodate drivers. Berkstresser also boxed and sold hundreds of Easter dinners for drivers. 

Berkstresser’s operations were praised by former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for their work offering COVID-19 vaccinations at the medical facility and an urgent care clinic he opened at the truck stops in 2019. 

Read more about Berkstresser via this report from White's Travel Center in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic's early days in 2020, when the truck stop owner was kind enough to tour the operation with Overdrive editor Todd Dills. 

[Related: Truck stops see enduring shifts in food, other services in pandemic's wake]

Two sentenced in New Orleans staged-accident fraud scheme

Chandrika Brown and Aisha Thompson, both of New Orleans and defendants in the widespread staged-accident fraud scheme targeting trucking companies in Louisiana, have each been sentenced for their roles in the scheme.

Brown was sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service, restitution in the amount of $121,076.75, and a $100 special assessment fee. Thompson was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, 100 hours of community service, restitution in the amount of $677,500, and a $100 special assessment fee.

According to documents filed in federal court, Brown, along with her co-defendants, Doniesha Gibson and Ishais Price, conspired to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident with a co-defendant driver on Oct. 15, 2015. Thompson, along with co-defendants Dewayne Coleman, Erica Lee Thompson, and Donisha Lee; an unnamed passenger; and another individual, conspired to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident with the same co-defendant driver on Sept. 6, 2017.

[Related: Nuclear verdict threat rolls downhill to small fleets, owner-ops]

New features for multi-camera platform

The Netradyne company announced new features and functionality for its Driver-i multi-camera systems and platform, and a customized training program for fleets.

Enhanced Driver Privacy Mode: The new mode gives fleet operators some of the benefits of the in-cab cameras but minus recording capability. Rather, the feature gives drivers in-cab alerts and fleet managers in-the-cab alert data while interior recording is disabled. The mode's intended for fleets whose drivers are sensitive to inward facing cameras, or fleets who are concerned with driver retention by the introduction of safety cameras.  

Accident Alerts: This feature is aimed to help fleets to distinguish between accidents and other high-G-force alerts for non-accident events by increasing precision identification of vehicle collisions. 

New Roles: A new page within Driver-i's portal enables customers to independently create and assign new roles with permissions for functions that are specific to the company. 

Netradyne is also launching Netradyne University, a training program designed to help fleets and drivers maximize the value of the Driver-i platform. The free training program allows customers and drivers to stream online course content, complete assignments and become certified on installation. 

Cross-border freight movement up after vax mandate

Trucks moved $69.2 billion worth of freight across the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico in both directions in February, which is 16.3% higher than the $59.5 billion moved across borders during the same month a year ago, according to a U.S. DOT bulletin published April 20.

The increase in cross-border freight in February follows COVID vaccine mandates implemented for truck drivers in January entering the U.S. and Canada.

DOT reported that trucks moved $29.7 billion in freight across the U.S.-Canada border and $39.5 billion across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The top three busiest truck border ports were Laredo, Texas ($17.1 billion); Detroit ($7.2 billion); and Port Huron, Michigan ($6.1 billion).

Computers and parts made up the largest share, monetarily, of freight moved across the borders by trucks at $12.9 billion, followed by electrical machinery at $10.5 billion, and vehicles and parts at $8.8 billion.

Truck freight made up the vast majority of freight moved across the borders in February. Compared to the $69.2 billion trucks moved during the month, rail moved $15.3 billion, followed by pipeline ($9.9 billion), vessel ($9 billion), and air ($4.2 billion).

[Related: Legislation introduced to exempt Canadian, Mexican drivers from U.S. border vaccine mandate

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