By Charlie Morasch
“Mathews,” the policeman’s voice echoed through the concrete jail.
Thaddeus Mathews groggily sat up on the cold metal bench, and looked at the young, uniformed officer.
“Is your truck paid for?”
“Yes,” Mathews answered.
The officer turned and left the jail room.
It was the start of an extended battle Mathews believes he’s only just begun.
In two separate incidents in late August and early September, two OOIDA members were arrested by police in a small Texas town. The arrests and the circumstances were incredibly similar.
In a two-week stretch between late August and early September, both OOIDA Senior Member Thaddeus Mathews and OOIDA Member Joseph Dusseau were arrested for aggravated assault with a motor vehicle by Hillsboro, TX, police.
Both incidents allegedly involved two women driving small passenger vehicles that were merging onto Interstate 35 south of Dallas. Each of the women claimed their cars were bumped by a heavy truck. In both cases, police contend the truck drivers ran into the cars repeatedly, an allegation both truckers strongly deny.
Both drivers lost their jobs, and in Dusseau’s case he lost what he’d been paying on a lease-purchase program through his employer. Two months after the alleged crash incidents, neither truck driver had been formally charged.
In Mathews’ case, within days of the arrest, police had filed civil papers to seize his Kenworth under a controversial Texas law that allows law enforcement to seize cash and property before defendants are formally charged.
“It’s like something you’ve read, but you’d never think in your wildest dreams it could happen to you,” Mathews said. “I’ve never been in any trouble in my life. I’ve always kept my nose clean. It’s just amazing how things can get you twisted up.”
Joseph Dusseau has worked as a truck driver for four years. The Valparaiso, IN, resident worked since the spring for John Christner Trucking of Sapulpa, OK.
During the early evening hours on Aug. 20, Dusseau left Dallas and later merged from I-35 West to I-35 South.
Construction on I-35 heading south had reduced traffic to a standstill. At 9:30 p.m., Dusseau said he was pulled over and told that he’d struck a 21-year-old female’s Honda while merging onto I-35 southbound. The name of the alleged victim was removed by the Hillsboro Police from incident reports obtained by Land Line Magazine.
Police also said after Dusseau struck the woman’s car the first time, he struck her a second time – pushing the car 20 feet in the process.
The policeman’s news stunned Dusseau, who later took out his camera and took pictures of the truck. The photos show zero damage.
“Not a chance in hell,” Dusseau said. “Nothing like that happened.”
Police told him that marks from the woman’s car bumper appeared to match Dusseau’s truck. They mentioned bolts that hold his license plate, though Dusseau says that’s impossible.
“I don’t have bolts,” he said. “I have screws that sit flush.”
Dusseau tried to walk to the other vehicle to inspect its damage, but he was quickly intercepted by a patrol officer.
“He said, ‘get the (expletive deleted) back to your truck!’ ” Dusseau said. “That’s when I was handcuffed and taken to jail.”
His father was able to post $1,700 bond to get him out of jail after he spent nearly 24 hours behind bars. The 2007 Kenworth T-600 was soon picked up by JCT, which had terminated Dusseau’s contract.
Thaddeus Mathews and his wife settled in Texas during the early 1980s, leaving Chicago in search of a large property and safe community to raise their young family.
An OOIDA member for 28 years, Mathews boasts a clean driving record.
On Sept. 4, at about 8 p.m., Mathews was heading from I-35W to I-35 South when he also was met by construction-slowed, first- and second-gear traffic.
Mathews was focused on the car ahead of him when he noticed a blue car at the edge of his 1996 Kenworth’s long-nose hood.
He hit his brakes to ensure he didn’t move forward. However, he said the blue Volkswagen was still very close to the truck. As traffic continued to inch forward, the Volkswagen Passat changed lanes and moved away.
Mathews continued to head south on I-35, never seeing the blue Volkswagen again.
About 40 minutes later, he was pulled over along I-35 and met by Hillsboro police.
During what Mathews called a “roadside interrogation,” police twice told him he could go ahead and admit hitting the Volkswagen and things would be easier for him.
“I won’t admit to anything,” Mathews recalled telling them.
Claudia Alba, the driver of the Passat, claimed the crash happened in stop-and-go traffic.
“It was a bump,” Alba told Land Line. “It was three bumps.”
One court document, filed and signed under sworn testimony from Hillsboro Police Officer Justin Girsh, contradicted Alba by stating that Mathews allegedly struck Alba’s vehicle at least four or five times.
“I didn’t cut him off in any way,” Alba claimed. “I did get in front of him. That’s probably what made him mad.”
Alba said she never made eye contact with Mathews and admitted she didn’t see him gesturing or otherwise acting upset.
After he was taken into custody, Mathews found police were arresting him on felony charges of assaulting someone with a vehicle. He was held on a $250,000 bond.
Eventually the bond was reduced, and nearly seven days after his arrest, Mathews posted bail.
When he arrived home, he found civil papers taped to his door. Hillsboro had seized his truck, and was using a controversial Texas law that allows law enforcement agencies to seize property before charges are formally filed.
Hillsboro Police Chief Tony Cain didn’t respond to multiple interview requests made by Land Line.
Mathews began researching Hillsboro the day he left jail and read about Dusseau’s arrest in the Hillsboro newspaper. He noticed several remarkable similarities between the two cases.
Before long, the drivers began talking on the phone and comparing notes.
The drivers realized they each have four children and are married to registered nurses.
By late October, more than two months after Dusseau’s arrest, neither of the drivers had been charged.
A Hillsboro police records employee told Land Line in mid-October police were waiting on paint scrapings removed from both vehicles to return from a crime lab.
Shannon Crowley, vice president of risk management for John Christner Trucking, said the lab results and subsequent further investigation could exonerate Dusseau and make him eligible for rehire.
“It doesn’t happen very often that one of our drivers gets thrown in jail,” Crowley said.
Crowley claimed that JCT exhausts resources if a driver is held by police and tries to help its drivers in such situations by delving into the details of the case.
Dusseau disagreed, saying the company wasted little time terminating his contract and picking up the truck he only recently began driving as part of a lease purchase.Motor carriers have an interest in protecting themselves legally when a driver has been arrested while on duty, he said.
“From a company perspective, the big issue becomes whether or not you have a guy operating or not in an unsafe manner,” Crowley said. “That could affect other motorists, and there is a financial risk to the company should something like an accident happen in the future.
“Again, it’s so rare that somebody gets arrested at the scene of an accident,” he said. “It’s a little cause for alarm. You generally assume the authorities don’t (arrest someone) when it isn’t warranted so you take it pretty seriously.”
Crowley said JCT will do everything it can if authorities say charges won’t be pursued against Dusseau.
Mathews was leased on with Dart Transit Co. of St. Paul, MN before the arrest. His lease has since been terminated.
Dart’s standard policy is to decertify any contractor if they are criminally charged after an accident, but also said the circumstances surrounding Mathews’ incident are “highly suspicious.”
“Our hope is that he is completely exonerated as the legal process plays itself out,” said Steve Gundale, Dart director of corporate communications. “We hope that he is successful in his defense, and Dart will be more than happy to consider a request for recertification, based on all the information available at that time.”
Mathews’ DAC report is clean, and Dusseau’s includes only the mention of the Hillsboro collision because it was reported by JCT.
By phone in late September, Mathews said he believes police in Hillsboro picked on the wrong trucker. He’s considering filing a civil lawsuit.
With hobbies like restoring and collecting old cars, Mathews said he could sell his classic customized Camaro and spend time working on his property while his legal situation plays out.
“I’ve worked hard. Nobody ever gave me anything,” Mathews said. “They misjudged me. This is not going to be the end of it.”
Although Mathews has his truck back, the fight for him is not over. “I just want to get my name back,” he said. “Is that too much to ask?” LL