Facebook Twitter

PARENTS TAKE AIM AT TOO-TIRED TRUCKERS

SHARE PARENTS TAKE AIM AT TOO-TIRED TRUCKERS

Not much has changed in Jeff Izer's room. Football trophies glisten. Glow-in-the-dark stars cover the ceiling. Scribbled on notebooks are teenage drawings of hearts with "Angie" written inside.

Neatly stacked in the corner are piles of condolence letters."Jeff was saving up to buy a ring for Angie," said Steve Izer, as he walks through his son's room. "I wish we had known her better."

Jeff and his girlfriend, Angela Dubuc, both 16, and two of their friends were killed in October. A trucker apparently dozed at the wheel and his 80,000-pound rig smashed into Jeff's disabled Ford Escort, parked in the breakdown lane on the Maine Turnpike.

The trucker neither swerved nor braked.

A fifth teenager escaped with injuries, as did the trucker, who yanked her free of the wreck.

Photos of the dead teens cover walls and the coffee table at the Izer house, where parents and friends of the victims gathered recently with lawmakers for one of the first meetings of P.A.T.T. - Parents Against Tired Truckers.

P.A.T.T. is determined to get the message out that professional truckers must be held responsible for accidents caused when they nod off behind the wheel because they failed to take required breaks.

"Truckers who drive drowsy should be held to the same standards that drunk drivers are when they kill someone on the road," said Donna Morgan, chairwoman of P.A.T.T.

"This is a way to honor our kids, if we can make some changes here," said Jeff's mother, Daphne Izer.

Trucker Robert Hornbarger, 48, of Clearville, Pa., had shopped all day with his wife before he climbed into his rig to haul a Wal-Mart load from Pennsylvania to Maine.

Although Hornbarger, a veteran of 20 years on the roads, had not yet driven the maximum 10 hours allowed, investigators say he had not slept enough and was fatigued.

In December, the teenagers' parents were shocked a second time when a grand jury failed to indict Hornbarger for manslaughter in their children's deaths.

Hornbarger pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of falsifying his logbook and will be sentenced this summer. He faces a minimum penalty of $340 and a maximum of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

Federal law requires tractor-trailer drivers be rested when they start driving and that they take an eight-hour break for every 10 hours they spend on the road.

There are good reasons for this law, said Dr. William Dement of the Sleep Disorders Center at Stanford University and chairman of the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research.

"Driving drowsy is no different from driving drunk. It is just more poorly understood," he said.

P.A.T.T. isn't out to penalize individual truckers doing their jobs, Morgan said, but does protest conditions within some companies that encourage or force truckers to drive sleepy and falsify their log books.

About 93 percent of long-haul truck drivers are paid either by the mile or the load, a system critics say encourages truckers to drive as many miles possible in the shortest time possible so they can pick up another load.