May/June 1998 Magazine Archive

George Reagle, part two

Associate Administrator of the Office of Motor Carriers

by Sandi Laxson Soendker
and Ruth Jones

The March/April issue of Land Line featured Part One of an exclusive interview with Associate Administrator of the Office of Motor Carriers, George Reagle. In Part Two, Land Line talked to OMC's top gun after the House of Representatives passed their version of the highway spending bill.

LL: On April 2, the House passed the $217 billion highway spending bill. It mentions a federal study of rest areas for truckers. Can you tell us a little about the specific focus of this proposed study?

GR: Let me first say that was not part of the administration's bill, so I assume it came up from Mr. Shuster or his staff. It's a big issue, as you well know, with all the truckers. We did a study in conjunction with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) that we released, I think in the fall. And frankly, I don't know what they want out of the second study, other than maybe an implementation plan for what's next. But I haven't seen the language nor do I know the genesis of it.

LL: Is anyone addressing the issue of time limits, or "no overnight parking" rules in rest areas?

GR: What we have done is on a case-by-case basis, when we've heard of it. In the state of Maryland, for example, where I live, that was an issue. Some of your folks or other independent truckers let us know. We talked to the Commercial Vehicle Division and they've done something about it on a case-by-case basis. What we've attempted to do is talk to our state partners and have them do something.

LL: In both the House and Senate versions of the highway bill it talks about the much-needed telephone hot line for truckers' concerns. Do you anticipate any resistance to this measure when the House and Senate meet in conference on this highway bill?

GR: I would guess — knowing the politics in the issue — you may get some from the trucking companies. Their concern, and I think it's a legitimate concern that we all need to deal with, is disgruntled employees who have been fired for legitimate reason. Using the hot line could be a chance to get back at the employer rather than bringing up a legitimate issue. I think, somehow, we need to look at that. And I guess the thinking off the top of my head is when the hot line is established to look for patterns rather than try to handle each individual case which would make it very difficult. I think we need to sit down with some folks and work that out.

LL: Both the House and Senate version of the Highway Bill call for additional personnel and money for more inspections to facilitate customs clearance at border crossings. What other progress is being made toward opening the border with Mexico?

GR: There are really three issues we've concentrated on since December of ‘95 and let me tick those off for you. First of all, we think (and thought then) it's really important that we train Mexican inspectors — those inspectors employed at the border inspecting vehicles going north. I believe, to this point in time, we've trained over 100 instructors, and that's not the actual inspector but instructors that will do the training. So, that's moving along fairly progressively.

The second concern is that they have a data and information base. Basically, that they know who the carriers are in Mexico and especially the ones who are going to be involved in international trade.

And third, similar to us, they have some type of safety management oversight system where they can look at the performance of their carriers and only a well-fit carrier can be involved in international trade.

We are making substantial progress on the first one (the data and information) and quite frankly, not as much progress as I'd like to see at this point and time on the safety and management oversight system.

LL: Regarding the provision for an information network that is in the House bill, will that network realistically integrate with the U.S. data system? Regarding the provision for an information network that is in the House bill, will that network realistically integrate with the U.S. data system?

GR: Let's look at an example, say, on a commercial drivers license. We want to be able to look at a data base at drivers who have U.S. CDLs, look at Mexican drivers and their CDLs. And Mexico wants to do this, as well. As a matter of fact, with respect to the Mexican area we've made substantial progress in getting their data on a data base. And we are now at the border checking CDLs of Mexican truckers.

LL: Once the borders are open, who is going to enforce the rules of cabotage [foreign carriers' U.S. operating rights]? Is that a DOT matter, local law enforcement, or state law enforcement?

GR: First, as I understand it (and I'm not a lawyer so you'll have to bear with me) — the way the treaty (NAFTA) is written it gets very complicated. As I understand it, the merchandise or whatever the truck is carrying, would be a customs issue relative to cabotage. With respect to the driver it would be Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). With respect to safety kinds of issues, it would be ours (FHWA).

It's a very complicated issue and frankly I'm not sure that within the United States Customs, INS and DOT, we've sat down and really worked out how it's going to work, but as I understand the treaty — that's who would have responsibility for those issues.

LL: Out-of-service criteria, previously unpublished (and more or less, a hidden document) is out in the open now. The new version of the CVSA's North American Uniform Vehicle Roadside Inspection criteria took effect April 1, 1998. Can you comment on where the Office of Motor Carriers is going with this?

GR: First of all, it is my personal view that we need to make sure that there is a nexus [connection] between the out-of-service criteria and accident causation. If we really can't make that connection we then need to look at the out-of-service criteria and question those. We're in the process now, with our state partners and CVSA in doing that. I think we've had three groups meet on the issue, looking at the out-of-service criteria. We put them in three bunches — most important, important and not as important — to see if we can't differentiate, based on accident causation.

The next step is to then take those criteria and look at insurance data and to see what the correlation might be between the out-of-service criteria and the insurance claims and the trends in insurance data. We just did that last week.

It is my personal view that at the end of this process, we can really get a set of out-of-service criteria with a very close nexus between the criteria and crash causation. So, that's the big picture, that's what we're trying to do. Brian McLaughlin, OMC's state program division chief, has done a really good job of working this issue and CVSA agrees that's the direction we ought to be moving in. I think then once we can articulate that, it really makes our job (and especially our state partners' job) much easier. From your driver's point of view and the company's point of view, there won't be what I consider frivolous violations or what they might consider frivolous violations.

I'm not saying today there aren't, but I think periodically we need to re-look at those criteria and make sure there is a connection. That's what we're doing now and I hope within a short period of time we can finish that.

LL: As you know, truckers can be penalized and placed out of service without due process. Can you tell us why?

GR: When there is a set of criteria and there is a nexus — then, I think we have every right to go ahead. For example, the criteria say that if a driver has driven and exceeded the hours of service, he needs to be put some place until he's legal again. I think it's very legitimate to do that. Then, if he has a problem, he has every right to object. In the future, he'll have two recourses. One would probably be through the driver hot line and the second would be the process that is in place through CVSA.

LL: If the agenda to set fair out-of-service criteria continues to make progress, is there an advance notice of rulemaking down the road?

GR: I really wouldn't want to predict. What I want to do is make sure we've done a really good analytical job working through the process.

I would hope that we would be finished with our work sometime this year and that doesn't mean rule making, but I mean through our process.

LL: Will there, in fact, be a rule making on this?

GR: I don't think I want to comment at this point in time, until we see where we are.

I mean if there's not, let me give you an algorithm [systematic method] that probably will not occur, but could. At the end, if we agree that there is a nexus between all the criteria and the accident data and the criteria are perfect — then obviously, there wouldn't be a rulemaking. Because nothing would change.

I don't think that's going to be the case, but I think we need to let the process work it's way through, analytically, and then decide at the end what is the best route to get from where we are not to where we want to go.

LL: Back in 1991, the ISTEA directed the DOT to initiate a rule making on minimum standards for entry level drivers. When do you think we might have those minimum standards? Back in 1991, the ISTEA directed the DOT to initiate a rule making on minimum standards for entry level drivers. When do you think we might have those minimum standards?

GR: Let me talk a little bit about what we did, where we are, and what the future holds. It probably took us a little longer than maybe Congress and others would want, but I think we finally gave them (Congress) a good report that says that the training, using the criteria that we did in the process, was not adequate.

Then, we published the report in the Federal Register and used other vehicles and got a lot of comments. We had a public hearing on the issue and we're now in the process of analyzing those comments and working on a rulemaking. As I recall, Jim Johnston testified at that hearing on behalf of OOIDA.

Quite frankly, we have zero base and we have hours of service among others. We've got a lot of top priority rulemakings — this being one of them. And it probably will take a little longer than I want, but given what's on our plate, I think doing the right thing in a little longer period of time is much better than trying to get something out that's not adequate. The staff is working on it now and I hope in the very near future we'll get something out. I don't really have a date at this point in time to give you. But, we have folks working on it every day.

LL: Some provisions of Secretary Slater's proposed safety bill have been included in the highway funding bill now under consideration. What's the status of the Secretary's proposal to make shippers and receivers responsible for their role in highway safety?

GR: Let me give you some history of how that came about and then tell you where we are.

You (OOIDA) were at the first ever Truck and Bus Safety Summit in Kansas City. If you'll remember one of the priorities that came out of that was the concern that shippers weren't as responsible as the industry might like. We have taken that to heart and when we prepared and did the preliminary work on NEXTEA, that issue came up loud and clear. Not only from our outreach session, but from our internal staff, as well. So, we included a provision in the bill to work that issue. The idea I believe, from our point of view, was to look for patterns of violations from specific shippers. So they would be, in this case, treated a little different than the regulated industry. It was included in the bill and we really want to see it get passed. The people that do the lobbying for the shippers are very concerned about it because they believe it's a nose under the tent and that in this legislation, if we just start looking at patterns, then they might be regulated just like everybody else in future legislation.

That is not the case in our view right now, and I want to state that very clearly. I think it is an issue that we need legislated — it helps us with respect to our safety job. It was brought up by the collective people in the summit and I hope we can get something worked out between now and when NEXTEA passes so that we can begin to move in that direction.

LL: Back to the House Bill for a minute. One of the provisions is a unique CDL identifier. What's that all about?

GR: That's been an issue for longer than I've been here. If I'm not mistaken that was in ISTEA as well. And I think it's sort of like saying we ought to invent something that prevents the cold... The problem is you can't tell researchers that they must find an answer by a certain date. It was in ISTEA, work was done on it, there were some concerns about the reliability and the validity of it.

It's a continuing issue. If we could in fact, find the cure so to speak, and it was cost-effective as well as valid — we would obviously move to employ it. The question is being able to come up with the cure so to speak... If it's in NEXTEA and it passes and is signed by the president, we would take a look at it again and try to move the ball a little forward. But to be able to predict when we're going to have a cure would be very difficult.

I assume because somebody is lobbying up there who thinks they have the cure, but I don't really know. It seems like an easy fix to a very difficult problem. People tend to think there must be a unique identifier-finger prints, or retina have been the two that have been used in the past, from what I've heard from the Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, there are some problems with both of those with respect to what it would cost to do it. There are also questions as to the validity of it.

LL: We talked to you before (March/April LL) about the electronic tracking systems and we understand that there's been a provision inserted into the House version of the bill that deals with this. We read in another publication that Shuster had inserted the provision in the House version of the bill at your request, is that true?

GR: Well, no! No! No! Let me say this three times. No! No! No!

LL: Will you comment on the provision? Will you comment on the provision?

GR: Well, let me talk generally. Let me just back up and give you some history of what our current policy is...then of what I understand is in the House version. This is so your readers get the complete picture. Well, let me talk generally. Let me just back up and give you some history of what our current policy is...then of what I understand is in the House version. This is so your readers get the complete picture.

First of all, and I know this is a big issue with Jim Johnston [and OOIDA], so I want to state this very clearly. In our view, as well as Jim's view, this is an extremely sensitive issue. I want your readers to know that the government believes and takes it that way. It is extremely sensitive. It is sensitive because we need a delicate balance between privacy on the one hand, and our enforcement responsibility on the other hand to go after bad carriers and drivers. I think from where I sit that is an extremely delicate balance and we have to be very cognizant of that.

The next thing is that the algorithm that we use —which is a fancy word for a list that tells us how we're going to use our internal resources on bad performance companies — really is a great accomplishment for us. It really helps us go after the bad companies who have exceeded the accident rates, exceeded the out-of-service rates for both drivers and vehicles and fairly soon we'll have citation data.

So, the industry has always harped on me about performance, performance, performance and that's exactly what "SafeStat" does. What we have said, given all of those things as sort of history, if we go into a company and look and sit down and ask them about their safety management oversight system, if that system is adequate in our view and does not involve global positioning systems or electronic records and they are adequately overseeing their safety responsibility, we would never ask for those records.

LL: What is SafeStat? What is SafeStat?

GR: Analytical people would call it an algorithm. I think people like you and I would call it a methodology. It's weighing and sorting out 433,000 carriers so that we can focus on the bad guys and use our resources to do a compliance review.

If the safety management oversight system is not adequate (remember, the only reason we're in there is because they're bad actors, so to speak) — and we want to look at those records to clarify some issues or to look at how they are using those records to manage their safety, then our safety investigator alone does not have the authority to do that. He must go to the regional director and the regional director talks to our head of field operations. So I think we've put in the appropriate amount of safeguards to clearly balance the privacy issue versus our enforcement perspective. We need to continue to be very sensitive to that issue.

We have many considerations here. Because where we are now is just the beginning, I think we're going to get into issues that your folks are really going to be sensitive about. Let me give you a scenario. I think the day will come in the early 21st century where a driver is going to be monitored through maybe a wrist watch or looking at their eye movement or some other feedback mechanism. Then, there's going to be a whole series of questions that are going to accrue. How long does a driver have to take some action? The company's access to those records... do we have access to those records? And what do we do with all those?

The whole electronic area is going to take off. It's our view, here in OMC, that we really need to get on top of this issue and start to look at it. And one of the things we have talked about, was setting up some kind of commission to look at this issue. Not only today, but in the future. In fact, we talked to the Hill about it.

By the way, that's not in the bill. What is in the bill, as I understood it yesterday, is that there would be a moratorium on the use of electronic records with several key exceptions. One would be a company whose driver was involved in a fatal crash. Two, a company whose safety profile was considered unsafe from our perspective given looking at SafeStat. And so as I understand it, that's what is in the bill now.

Oh, and the other thing I forgot was if they only had global positioning systems for electronic records and not paper records, then obviously we would want to look at them.

That's what I understand is in the bill that was published last night. LL

 

Member Profile

By Fred Barnes
OOIDA member since 1973,
elected to the Board of Directors in 1994

Fred Barnes' family moved to the mid-west from Georgia when he was 14 years old. He worked odd jobs all through high school, including occasionally driving a dump truck for his father, even before he got his license. But when Fred graduated from high school in 1956, he figured he would end up being a machinist, since he'd taken industrial arts classes, including machine shop.

About that time, his father bought a dump truck and made the switch from driver to owner-operator. Fred meanwhile heard the Marine Corps was looking for a few good men and joined.

His military training was as a structural mechanic for aircraft, which was a fancy label for a dent and body man for shot up airplanes. After his initial training, they came looking for folks to take a tour of duty in Japan, and Fred volunteered. When he arrived at his duty station in Japan, they didn't have a need for a structural mechanic but they did need a machinist, so Fred stepped in and filled that slot for his entire 16-month tour of duty.

After Fred's military experience, he attended the U.S. Trade School in Kansas City and was certified as a gasoline and diesel mechanic. This training allowed him to maintain his own equipment and keep his finger on the pulse of his own brand new owner-operator operation. You see, it was then, in 1961, that Fred bought his own dump truck and joined his father in the ranks of owner-operators.

In 1963, he bought a second dump and hired a driver to handle that one. Two years later, Fred took a job with Fairbanks-Morse, a pump manufacturer, as a turret lathe operator, but he didn't sell his dump trucks, he just hired another driver to drive his truck.

Fred bought his first over the road truck in 1967 and hired a driver to man it. After working a day job for three years, Fred took a one-month leave of absence that just never seemed to end.

In 1968 Fred's father was involved in a fatal truck/train accident, and his father's leasee asked Fred to complete the remainder of his father's lease. Fred did, and the next year he renewed the lease and kept right on trucking. In 1971, he bought an additional over the road truck and this one he drove himself. In June of 1988 Fred leased on with RPS, and began a relationship that has been mutually beneficial for nearly 10 years.

When asked about early trucking experiences, Fred said that his first road trip took him into Iowa in the middle of a winter storm. It was difficult driving, but he was doing OK until he came to a long, steep hill covered with ice and snow. As he started up, he thought to himself that he'd be fine as long as he didn't have to shift in the middle of the this monstrous hill. Halfway up this sheet of ice, he lost his forward momentum and had to down shift. Losing it in the middle of the shift, Fred decided right there that if he made it home safe he wasn't going to do this over the road stuff again. Just as he finished that thought, a seasoned driver passed him on that same hill and gained the top without a hitch. Seeing how it was done, Fred backed down the hill and took a second run with the proper starting speed and went right up the hill. With that success his resolve to quit disappeared and he continued to gain experience and confidence.

As you might expect from an exacting machinist, Fred Barnes has some precise ideas about how to keep his company running smoothly. He eliminates mechanical worries about his equipment by keeping it relatively new and well maintained. He uses manufacturer's replacement parts, figuring cheap truck parts are not always a good value in the long run. For Fred, keeping the truck as close as possible to its off-the-show-room specs is a good value. It eliminates many complications and delays that can end up costing more than his proactive preventive maintenance program.

Fred also emphasizes the importance of establishing a good working relationship with the carrier you are leased to. He's been with RPS for nearly ten years now and while it isn't a perfect relationship, he constantly works at making it better. Fred feels that identifying problems and working them out to both parties' mutual satisfaction is better than skipping from carrier to carrier every few years and having to attack a whole new set of problems. "A good carrier to lease to is one that keeps your trucks rolling, does not make unreasonable delivery demands, and is regular and dependable in paying for loads you've hauled," says Fred.

Just like the three most important things in retail store success are location, location, location, Fred says that drivers, drivers, drivers can make or break the small fleet owner. He hires only experienced drivers and then passes on practices he's picked up over the years. He insists his drivers know the DOT regulations and follow them.

"The simplest way to stay out of trouble is to know what can get you there and then avoid doing those things," says Fred.

Another tip Fred gives his drivers is to start the trip with a clear idea of the route you are going to travel. A good trucking atlas is more than a bunch of lines on paper. They can tell you truck routes, bridge heights and the fastest or safest routes to take. But sometimes a map doesn't answer all questions that might come up about the best way to get to a receiver, so Fred regularly calls ahead and asks receivers for the best way to get to their location. He feels that the $2 phone call and learning the facts for certain is cheap compared to trying to sort out directions from other truckers over the CB or plot them on city maps that don't take the size of his rig into consideration.

Fred joined OOIDA right after the first general truck strike in 1973, during the Arab fuel embargo. He remembers some of the first meetings held at the Holiday Inn in Kansas City, KS, but feels that though an emergency woke truckers to take action, joining together is just as important today as it was then.

"OOIDA has been directly involved in many monumental changes that have taken place over the years," says Fred. "Gaining uniform weight laws across the states, passage of lumping regulations, challenging unfair inspection practices, in court, and working for uniform speed limits to mention only a few. We still have many issues to work on, as well as the objective of training owner-operators and the public on better road safety habits."

Fred figures simply that the only way things can get better for the future is by presenting a unified front. "There is just no sense in going it alone when you can add your voice to the clout of the over 40,000 OOIDA members that are all working to make the trucking industry a better place to make a living," he says. LL

 

"They took my truck"

Another story of truck seizure in Van Horn, Texas

by Ruth Jones, senior editor

In Sept./Oct. 1995, Land Line featured a story about Arnie and Violet Agnew who, one day in 1993, stopped for dinner in Van Horn, TX, and whose lives were never the same again. Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Bruce Jackson noticed the Agnew's restored 1947 Peterbilt parked outside a local restaurant and proceeded to do a VIN inspection, which turned up two different VINs on the truck.

Under Texas law, if the VINs on a vehicle have been altered, the vehicle is considered stolen until proven otherwise, and is subject to seizure. Trooper Jackson impounded the truck and it was subsequently discovered that the Agnew's truck had, at some point in its existence, been stolen, and the VIN altered to obscure the fact. Texas authorities kept the truck, and the resulting financial hardship forced Arnie and Violet into bankruptcy. This is the story of OOIDA member Greg Nelson and his experience in Van Horn.

On Sept. 19, 1997, owner-operator Greg Nelson was heading from Arizona to Florida hauling a load of rose bushes. On I-10 near Van Horn, TX, he was stopped by Trooper Jackson for a roadside safety inspection. In the course of the inspection, Jackson discovered that Greg's 1981 Peterbilt had two different VINs. One that matched the VIN on his title was found on a plate near the clutch pedal. The other VINs indicated that the truck was a 1984 "kit." Greg was directed to drive into Van Horn to weigh the truck, and once at the scale, Greg was told to wait in a small utility building while Jackson did a thorough VIN inspection.

"He said he was going to check out the rest of the VINs, and I had better not try to look out and see what he was doing. I did what he said. There was a padlock on the outside of the door. I don't know if he locked me in or not. I was scared. For all I knew he could have been planting drugs in my truck." Jackson told Greg that since there were two VINs on the truck, it was considered an altered vehicle. In accordance with Texas law, Jackson seized the truck and told Greg there would be an investigation.

Greg was incredulous. "I could't believe this was happening to me," he told Land Line. Greg was allowed to remove whatever personal effects he wanted. He packed only his clothes and some bedding, sure that this mess would be straightened out in a matter of days. "I was in shock – I never even thought to grab my CB," he said.

Greg rented a truck to deliver the rose bushes and kept working while he, family members and Land Lineattempted to unravel the mystery of the second VIN. The court in Van Horn provided Greg with a list of previous owners obtained from title searches of both VINs. The third name on the list was Charles Koester, with a Wisconsin address. Working together, the Nelsons and Land Line tracked down Koester, now living in Oklahoma, who provided the answer to the mystery of the two VIN numbers.

A surprising answer

Koester bought a used 1981 Peterbilt from a dealer in Wisconsin early in 1983. In the summer of 1984, Koester wrecked the truck. In November, 1984, after he recovered from his injuries, Koester purchased a 1984 kit. According to Koester, the dealership took the VIN plate (located near the clutch pedal) off of the wrecked 1981, and switched it with the VIN plate on the 1984 kit. Without documentation, the reason for this is not clear, but Koester told Land Line that the dealership told him they did this so that the truck would be called a "rebuild," not a "kit." Koester signed a statement detailing these events and forwarded it to the court in Van Horn.

Greg felt that Koester's statement should take care of the matter, but that was not the case. Trooper Jackson maintained that though the truck was apparently not a stolen vehicle, the fact remained that it did not have a legal title, because it did not contain the correct VIN. The truck would stay in Van Horn until the problem was corrected. A hearing date was set for Nov. 13, 1997.

Greg was outraged. "It's just a simple paperwork problem," he told Land Line on Oct. 31. "If I could take the truck home to Iowa, I could get the title straightened out and everything would be fine. But Iowa isn't going to do this on my say-so. Iowa's going to want to see the truck, and they sure won't go to Van Horn to look at it.

"I'm at the end of my rope. This isn't right. Those people in Van Horn know it's not stolen and they still won't let me have the truck. I'll tell you this though, regardless of how this turns out, I want to make sure this never happens to anybody else. I don't care how much time it takes. If it takes the rest of my life, I want to make sure no one else has to go through what me and my family are going through."

But time was something Greg didn't have. On Monday morning, Nov. 3, 1997, Greg Nelson was backed up to a loading dock in Des Moines, just a few hundred miles from his home in Klemme, IA. As he lay in the sleeper of the rented truck, Greg suffered a heart attack and died. He was 43 years old.

His wife, Dixie, received the call every trucker's wife dreads later that day. It was her birthday. She spent the remainder of the day breaking the news to their three children, family and friends.

After Greg's funeral, the effort continued to recover his truck. "I have to get Greg's truck back," Dixie told Land Line. "He died because of all this. What happened in Van Horn isn't right. Greg's truck isn't stolen and they know that. That ought to be the end of it."

Two trucks, two titles

A continuance was granted (the original court date was Nov. 13), and the family retained a local lawyer in Van Horn. But the story would take one more unexpected twist. Investigators for Texas Department of Public Safety learned that the truck that Charles Koester wrecked had been sold, was subsequently rebuilt, and was still in operation. That truck was registered as a 1984 kit due to the VIN number near the clutch pedal.

Gilbert Gibreal of Omaha, NE, the current owner of the previously wrecked truck, was understandably upset when law enforcement authorities had his truck towed to an impound lot. He was further upset to find out that while he had bought and paid for a 1984 Peterbilt, in fact what he had was a 1981 rebuilt wreck. Gibreal told Land Line he was attempting to contact the dealer who sold him the truck to demand answers. It is not likely that Gibreal obtained any satisfactory answers as he has reportedly retained a lawyer to look into the matter.

Gibreal's truck was released to him after a few weeks, though authorities told him he couldn't operate the vehicle until the title was corrected. Nebraska authorities told Land Line they were satisfied that Mr. Gibreal had purchased the truck in good faith and since there was no theft involved, there was no reason to hold the vehicle.

Dixie Nelson was stunned. "Nebraska let Mr. Gibreal have his truck back and just told him to get his title straightened out. Why is Texas holding onto Greg's truck?"

Dixie and other family members traveled to Van Horn for a scheduled Jan. 27 court date. On advice of their attorney, they agreed to postpone the hearing until Jan. 28 to see if Gibreal would agree to simply trade titles with them. But on that date, they discovered no new hearing had been set, and Jackson had gone out of town. And, Mr. Gibreal was not inclined to trade titles.

Mr. Gibreal wants someone to refund the cash difference he felt he was due since his truck turned out to be a 1981 rebuilt wreck, not the 1984 model he thought he'd purchased. He told Land Line, the Nelsons and law enforcement officials that he hadn't decided what he was going to do about the title. The Nelsons went home to Iowa, feeling frustrated and helpless. Greg Nelson's truck stayed in Van Horn, continuing to run up a sizeable storage bill.

"We're all victims of this stupid VIN plate switch that happened 13 years ago, and there doesn't seem to be a thing we can do about it. Greg spent good money to buy this truck, but we don't have any rights in this thing at all," said Dixie.

Land Line asked Trooper Jackson why, at this point, the Nelsons couldn't have Greg's truck? According to Jackson, if the matter was to be heard by the court, the truck would have to be awarded to go to Gibreal, since he held the title with the true VIN on it. "By postponing court action, we're actually doing Mrs. Nelson a favor - giving her and her attorney time to convince Mr. Gibreal to trade titles with her. As long as that other truck is out there with the correct VIN on it, this truck cannot be returned to the Nelsons. Legally, Mr. Gibreal is the owner of this truck, because his title contains its true VIN."

Frantic, Dixie Nelson called Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's office. Grassley's office contacted Texas DPS Commander David Griffith who offered another possibility. According to Griffith, it is true that the vehicle likely wouldn't be returned to the Nelsons by the court, since their title does not prove their ownership. If a hearing is held, and Gibreal does not pursue his claim to the truck, the truck could be awarded to the storage facility on a storage lien. Then the storage facility would be responsible for obtaining a corrected title, and legally able to do so. At the discretion of the lien holder, the truck could then be sold to the Nelsons for storage costs and title fees, but there are no guarantees.

It's late April and Greg Nelson's truck still sits in Van Horn, waiting on the decision of the court. Meanwhile, Dixie Nelson struggles to support her children on her income as a cosmetologist. In spite of the high phone bills, attorney's fees and the trip to Van Horn that created severe financial hardship for the family, she is determined to pursue the quest to recover her husband's truck. LL

Dixie Nelson speaks out

"I want to say something to every trucker. If you're going to buy a used vehicle, make sure you get the VINs checked out so nothing like this ever happens to you. This thing cost my husband his life and destroyed mine and my children's. This whole thing is a nightmare. It started on September 19, and it never stops. I go to bed with it every night and wake up with it every morning. It's beaten me down but I will not stop until I find a way to make this right. Nothing will bring Greg back, but there has to be justice for him out there somewhere.

"There is one more piece of advice I'd like to give all truckers. Stay away from Van Horn, Texas. This Trooper Jackson may recover a lot of stolen vehicles, but from where I sit, he's not doing much to discourage the people who steal them, he's just creating a whole new set of victims."

March/April
Digital Edition