The phone call that bears devastating news of a family member's death can come at any time. When the spouse or parent happens to be an over-the-road trucker, grief is often complicated by the frustrating task of getting home. In January, OOIDA member Randy Tomblin found out how quickly strangers step up to help, and how some don't seem to care at all.
Tomblin drives for Triad Transport, a McAllister, OK, company. He drives a tanker, working out of the terminal in Columbus, OH. Hauling a load of acid, he was in Georgia on Jan. 27, when his pager and Qualcomm went crazy.
"It was an urgent message, telling me to call home immediately," he says.
He pulled off I-75 at exit 133 and into the Flying J at Resaca, GA, but there was no place to park. He pulled up beside the scale, parked and ran inside to find a phone. When he phoned his home in Lucasville, OH, his wife Lynn answered the phone. Randy could tell from the anguish in her voice "something awful had happened." All she would tell him is that there had been a death in the family. She was afraid to tell him, knowing he was on the road and fearing what his state of mind would be if he knew.
While he pleaded with his wife to tell him what happened, another driver noticed his distress. Although Randy had never met him before, the driver got him a cup of coffee and brought it to him in an effort to comfort him. Randy tried to calm himself and assured Lynn he would somehow catch a flight home. The nearest connection would be to fly out of Chattanooga.
He was trying to make a connection when he overheard a page saying the truckstop was going to tow the Triad truck. He hung up and frantically went to the fuel desk and identified himself as the Triad driver and said he was sorry but there was an emergency, a death in the family and he was trying to find out more.
He said the fuel desk manager, Darrell Longmeier, told him, "I don't care. We're towing your truck if you don't move it now."
Randy tried to explain that he had to use the phone, to talk to his wife and find out what happened and make arrangements to get home. Longmeier didn't seem to be at all concerned.
"He told me it was out of his hands and up to security," says Randy, "he just said, ‘We are gonna tow it if you don't move it, now.'"
There was no offer to find him a place to park, no offer of assistance. Longmeier told him to leave. Randy was shocked. Words were exchanged and in a state of panic and disbelief, Randy swore at the man behind the fuel desk.
"I had the cup of coffee in my hand and I threw it at him and left. I got in my truck and drove across the street to the CB shop," Randy says. "I had to find a place to park and get to a phone."
At the CB shop, it was a different story. The owner of the place, a hospitable man, stopped everything to be of assistance.
"The people at the shop were unbelievable," says Randy, "I told them what was happening and right away, they let me use their business phone to call my wife."
From the CB shop, Randy called his wife back, and was stunned when she told him his 14-year old son had collapsed at school and died of a sudden, unpredicted heart failure. Grief stricken, he tried again to make connections to fly home. He found out it was too late to catch a plane out of Chattanooga. He had just missed the last flight by minutes, minutes wasted by the fracas at the truckstop. Randy Tomblin climbed in his truck and drove a very long 500 miles home.
"God must have been watching over me," he said later. On Feb. 1, he and Lynn laid their young son to rest.
Randy Tomblin is now back on the road. There are big bills to be paid. He thinks about his son and the funeral services at the school gymnasium. He thinks about Andy Taylor, his terminal manager at Triad who drove 100 miles to come to the service, and the good people at the CB shop. And he thinks about the incident at the truckstop.
"I guess I still can't believe it. I have been trucking 25 years and never in a hundred years would expect to be treated like that. Especially from an employee of a truckstop, a place that is supposed to serve truckers," says Randy.
The assistant general manager at the Flying J is Donnie Sims. Sims told Land Line he was aware of the incident and regretted the situation.
"Granted, we should have been more understanding," Sims said, "I'm sure this will be addressed and we'll be sure to be better prepared when something like this happens in the future to one of our customers." LL