by René Tankersley, feature editor
Unfortunately, most of those impacted by this domino effect were the 1,100 owner-operators who had the misfortune of being leased to one of the Intrenet companies – Eck Miller Transportation, Roadrunner Trucking, Roadrunner Distribution Services and Advanced Distribution System.
For now, owner-operators may be considered “unsecured creditors” in the bankruptcy, and are left holding the bag, and in some cases “the bag” included rubber checks returned from the bank marked “refer to maker.” OOIDA filed a lawsuit to separate escrow funds from the bankruptcy since this money belongs to the owner-operators and never belonged to any Intrenet company.
The stories of owner-operators Bill and Sue Stokes, Jay and Linda Taylor, Tommy and Delene Sumpter, and Delene’s father James Yancey are only a small portion of the 1,100 small business truckers who lost thousands of dollars when Intrenet went belly up. For each of these four stories, there are hundreds of owner-operators with similar stories.
Bill and Sue Stokes
Stokes Trucking, Abilene, TX
Bill and Sue Stokes had five trucks leased to Roadrunner Trucking when Intrenet dropped the bomb that shut them down. Bill and his drivers had just dropped four loads the previous day and called
the dispatcher Jan. 3 for another load. It was then that the terminal manager Damon Garvin asked him to come into the Roscoe, TX, terminal for an office meeting.
“When he got there it wasn’t a meeting,” Sue Stokes said. “All it was, was to turn load paperwork in, trailer placards, etc. They were told they would be paid for the loads that have already been turned in but probably not for what’s been turned in today. Lonestar Transportation was there, offering leases to owner-operators.”
Although they leased on somewhere else quickly, Sue says they were left with more than $13,000 in bad checks from Roadrunner Trucking. The company also did not return the Stokes’ $4,000 escrow fund. As a result, the Stokes filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Although Chapter 13 allows companies and families to reorganize, the Stokeswere forced to sell all their trucks and equipment, except one truck and one trailer.
“This put me in one hell of a situation,” Bill Stokes said. “It put a damper on my life and my marriage.”
“They only let us keep one truck and trailer so [Bill] could make a living,” Sue said.
“We got to keep our home as long as we can make the payments.”
Sue says she is devastated by how all this has affected their credit rating, which was good until they were forced to file bankruptcy.
“The saddest part is that we’ve always been so conscientious about our bills. We’re the type that pay our bills and then we eat,” Sue said. “We’ve been married 35 years. For all this to come around at this time in our life, it’s been pretty bad.”
Bill followed his terminal manager Damon Garvin to Kelly Truck Line, according to Sue, who keeps books for her husband’s trucking business and works for a local utility company. She believes her family will survive despite the bankruptcy.
“We’re just determined enough to do so,” Sue said. “We don’t want them to come in and take everything we’ve got. Our grown children and four grandchildren are the only things that pulled us through this.”
As she talked and laughed about her grandchildren, Sue added, “We’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.”
Jay and Linda Taylor
Taylor Transportation Services Inc. Clarksville, IN
Jay and Linda Taylor had 17 trucks leased to Eck Miller Transportation when it all “went down” with Intrenet. When it was all over, the Taylors were without their $15,393 escrow fund and were left holding at least two bad checks totaling $17,575. In total, Linda Taylor says the shutdown cost their company $100,000, but she admits they were more fortunate than the little guy with one truck and a family to support.”
“We had a lot of our fleet paid for, that was a savings for us,” Linda said. “We were able to go to our banker and borrow money to replace the lost funds.”
Linda’s main complaint is the bad checks and “how it went down.”
“I feel my checks should have been made good,” Linda said. “That money is due us. And, our escrow should be given back. If we were to get our escrow money back and our bad checks, that would thoroughly make me happy. We lost a lot of money, and we’re trying to dig out of it.”
After what happened to Eck Miller, the Taylors are apprehensive about putting most of their trucks with one carrier. Their trucks are now split between three carriers. “We’re real leery as to the economy and how the trucking industry’s going to survive,” Linda said. “Carriers are going out of business every day.”
The Taylors did business with Eck Miller for more than 20 years and saw the company change owners numerous times. “I miss Eck Miller every day,” Linda said. “It was a good company with the respect of all their customers.”
“Eck Miller had good people, good agents,” Linda said. “Everybody just went to different companies. They’re like a jigsaw puzzle thrown in the air and they landed everywhere.”
Tyler, TX and
Tommy and Delene Sumpter
With two trucks leased to Road-runner Trucking, James Yancey was looking forward to retiring, but he says the Intrenet bankruptcy crushed his retirement dreams.
“I’m 60 years old, and was working to get out of the truck and let the trucks make me a living,” Yancey said. “This knocked me back probably three or four years that I’ll have to stay in the truck. It almost put me out of business.”
With Roadrunner owing him about $27,000 dollars, Yancey holds nothing back when discussing Roadrunner and bankruptcy.
“You get a phone call one day and the company isn’t there no more,” Yancey said.“And the head man of that outfit was on vacation in the Bahamas at the time.”
After hearing about the bankruptcy from his agent, Yancey made another shocking discovery. The load settlements that were usually direct-deposited into his bank account had not been made for almost 30 days. He had a few hired drivers that depended upon him for their paychecks. How was he going to pay his drivers?
“I had to go to them and tell them if you stick with me I can make it, but I cannot pay you on time,” Yancey said. “First, I paid them two weeks late, then one week late, and then got caught up. I was late on my truck payments too. There’s times when that $1,000 escrow money would have helped out. It just isn’t right people can do this and get away with it.”
Yancey’s family was affected twice by the Intrenet shutdown. His daughter, Delene, is married to owner-operator Tommy Sumpter, who had his truck leased with Roadrunner. The couple has a year-old daughter, and Delene graduated from nursing school in May.
Yancey and Sumpter followed their agent from Roadrunner to Pacer, where they are now leased. Sumpter estimates Roadrunner owes him about $6,200 in load settlements and $1,000 in escrow money, plus he’s holding three bad checks from Roadrunner totaling $7,000-$8,000. When he talks about Roadrunner and Intrenet, Sumpter doesn’t hold anything back.
“The whole thing pissed me off,” Sumpter said. “We should have had some kind of explanation. You couldn’t talk to any of the big dogs there. When all this went down, the head man caught him a cruise. I hope somebody hangs him from a tree by his nuts.”
OOIDA sues on behalf of owner-operators
Within days of the Jan. 2 shutdown of Intrenet’s subsidiaries, OOIDA attorneys sent a formal demand on behalf of the association for the return of all escrowed funds to the drivers.
“OOIDA is the only one doing anything to help us get any of our money,” Tommy Sumpter told Land Line.
The letter, dated Jan. 9, 2001, was addressed to David F. Isler, senior vice president of Huntington National Bank, one of Intrenet’s largest creditors and the financial institution with “dominion and control” over Intrenet’s funds.
“It is our understanding that these funds may be under the dominion and control of Huntington National Bank, or may have been swept by the bank from accounts of Intrenet or its subsidiaries,” the letter said. “In any event, we have been advised by the CEO of Intrenet that the funds can only be returned with bank approval.”
Additionally, the letter gave the bank until 5 p.m. EST on Jan. 12, 2001, to return the money before taking legal action.
The funds were not returned, and on April 5, OOIDA filed an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy of Intrenet Inc. and its four motor carrier subsidiaries. OOIDA also filed claims against the bank. The lawsuit is filed as a class action on behalf of all owner-operators under lease to any of the four motor carriers.
In its complaint, OOIDA seeks to separate from the bankruptcy estate, the escrow funds held by the defendants at the time of the bankruptcy. The suit also requests the immediate return of all escrow funds to individual owner-operators prior to the payment of the amounts due to creditors.
“Escrow funds collected by motor carriers from owner-operators under lease to the carriers are monies that belong to the owner-operator,” said Jim Johnston, president of OOIDA. “Those funds are not assets of the motor carrier, and the motor carrier has no beneficial interest in that money.”
Under the federal truth-in-leasing regulations, which govern administration of owner-operator escrow funds, this money may only be used to satisfy obligations incurred by the individual owner-operator, and in all circumstances, must be returned to the owner-operator within 45 days of termination of his lease.
At press time, OOIDA reported that the answer from the lawsuit’s defendants was due in May.