Cover Story
Deadly consequences
Slain trucker's family seeks legislation to ensure safer truck parking

By Clarissa Kell-Holland
staff writer

 

On March 5, Jason Rivenburg arrived early in the evening with his load of milk at a Food Lion distribution center in Elloree, SC. He was turned away because his appointment time wasn’t until 8 a.m. the following morning.

However, his delivery never took place.

After leaving the Food Lion lot, the 35-year-old trucker from Fultonham, NY, headed to a parking lot at an abandoned gas station in St. Matthews, SC, approximately 12 miles from where he was to unload the next morning.

While on the phone to a friend that Thursday night after pulling in to rest, Jason was fatally shot in the head for the approximately $7 he had on him. It was a call from Food Lion when Jason failed to show up at his delivery time that set off a desperate hunt for Jason. His body wasn’t found by the Calhoun County Sheriff’s office until early Saturday morning, March 7.

While three people have been charged in Jason’s death, his family and friends and a nation of truckers and their families are mourning his loss.

To make ends meet, Jason drove part-time for VanderVeen Trucking Inc., of Delanson, NY.

Jason leaves behind his wife, Hope and three small children – a 2-year-old son and twins, a boy and a girl, who were born 13 days after their dad’s death.

Grassroots petition gains momentum
As of press time, more than 5,300 people have signed a national petition being circulated by Jason Rivenburg’s family. Their intent is to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation requiring secure parking options for truckers.

The petition has already gained the attention of several lawmakers from Jason’s home state of New York. His family has met with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and with New York Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, about the legislation, titled “Jason’s Law.” They have also been in contact with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, about the need for safe and secure truck parking.

The petition requests safer conditions for truck stops and that “businesses be required to provide a secure common area for them to wait to unload.”

The author of the “Jason’s Law” petition is Cassandra Hardendorf, Jason’s aunt. Her husband, Tim, said she wrote the petition as a way to deal with the family’s grief and outrage at this senseless tragedy. He also said she wrote it as a way to shine a light on the security dilemmas truckers face daily when out on the road.

Besides being circulated by truckers and their families throughout all 50 states, truckers in Great Britain, Australia and Canada have signed the petition in support of the legislation as well. For those interested in signing the petition, visit www.jhlrivenburg.com/index.html.

“We have been amazed by how many people have signed it so far. I have to credit my wife’s drive to change how things are done so this doesn’t happen to somebody else’s family,” Tim told Land Line Magazine in late March. “We need to provide secure parking for these men and women to stop and rest. Truckers’ safety should be a top priority for our state and federal legislators.”

Tim said many truckers who commented on the need for legislation have noted that shippers and receivers should provide secure truck parking for the drivers who haul their freight.

Instead, he said there is this “get in and get out attitude.” And instead of rewarding drivers who arrive early for their appointment times, drivers are punished and asked to leave.

 “This doesn’t make sense to me at all. Drivers should be rewarded for being early, not sent away,” Tim said. “You see some of these huge store chains that have all this parking space that would benefit truckers, but their policies don’t allow trucks to park there. You would think drivers would be treated better because almost everything is brought by truck.”

Tim said he worried about Jason’s and other drivers’ safety behind the wheel on the nation’s roadways, but he admitted he gave little thought about their personal safety when parked to take their mandatory 10-hour break until Jason was killed.

Tim, who grew up in rural upstate New York, said while he always thought rural areas were safer, being away from crime-ridden cities, he said he isn’t sure that’s the case for truckers looking for a quiet place to pull off.

With the overcrowding at truck stops and the constant interruptions by people knocking on truckers’ doors, some are forced to find out-of-the-way places to rest – sometimes with deadly consequences. Then there are the time limits and restrictions at rest areas in some states to deal with, too.

 “In Jason’s case, he was a sitting duck at that unlit gas station,” he said. “If he would have had a secure area to park, maybe this tragedy could have been prevented because the criminal who shot him might have thought twice before pulling the trigger for fear someone might see him.”

Passing the buck
And as some states desperately seek ways to balance their budgets, valuable truck parking spots at rest areas are on the chopping block as a way to save on maintenance expenses.

With truck parking already at a premium, this trend puts further strain on truckers. They are already pushing to meet stringent deadlines and must find secure areas to park or face deadly consequences if they drive too long and can’t find a spot to pull off – or find the wrong area where they become a random target of a violent crime.

Some of the state’s transportation department officials have questioned why it is their “responsibility” to provide safe and secure parking options for truckers. Some have asked why shippers and receivers aren’t held accountable for providing truck parking, too. Many truckers who have signed the petition have asked that same question as well.

Who else is speaking out?
According to federal law, shippers and receivers are not required to provide truck parking for the trucks or the truckers who are unloading or loading at their facilities. This is an issue the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been fighting since its inception in the early 1970s.

The Association calls the struggle to find truck parking the single most aggravating issue long-haul drivers face daily. It’s been a top issue on OOIDA’s “serious list” for years, and the Association will continue to be outspoken about it until remedies are made.

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said the Association has been pushing for federal legislation that would give the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the authority to put a stop to certain actions and policies of shippers and receivers that place drivers at risk.

 “It is simply counter-productive to highway safety to let those whose actions impact the whole safety equation fly under the radar screen and avoid accountability,” Rajkovacz told Land Line.

However, major distribution chains such as Food Lion disagree.

Food Lion’s corporate policy at their distribution facilities, according to company Spokeswoman Karen Peterson, is that drivers “may arrive up to one hour prior to the scheduled docking time.” No earlier, no later.

If drivers are unable to unload because the dock is occupied, Peterson said trucks “may park until the dock is available.” However, once they are unloaded, drivers are “expected to leave after deliveries are made.”

Peterson said Food Lion has a national truck parking policy in place to “ensure a safe and efficient process at the distribution centers.”

When Land Line posed the question about whether Food Lion would reconsider its position on truck parking if some type of legislation like “Jason’s Law” was introduced, Peterson said the company already adheres to “all federal, state and local regulations regarding transportation.”

Rajkovacz said truckers are coerced on a daily basis by both shippers and receivers, who are complicit about hours-of-service violations. A former trucker who drove for more than 29 years before joining the Association full-time in 2006, Rajkovacz was held up at knifepoint for his wallet while waiting at a dock to unload in the late 1980s.

A recent Land Line survey online asked: “As a trucker, have you ever been a victim of violence while parked?” Rajkovacz was among the more than 14 percent of truckers who replied affirmatively. Another 28 percent of those surveyed admitted they have had a few close calls in the past.

Rajkovacz said shippers and receivers should have some responsibility because they are “bringing people onto their property who are engaged in interstate commerce covered by federal rules and are then told to leave regardless of their hours-of-service situation.”

 “Can you imagine an airline pilot who’s out of hours landing at an airport, only to be told to get the hell out of there? It doesn’t happen; however, this is exactly what drivers are told on a daily basis,” Rajkovacz said. “…Because even if a driver arrives with plenty of hours, he is forced to wait at a dock, and then he’s kicked off the property like trash when they are done with him.”

Rajkovacz said OOIDA members must be proactive and speak out about how they are treated and the difficulties they face daily to find secure truck parking.

 “If you come across the petition, sign it. Second, contact your representatives and explain in your own words how difficult finding truck parking has become in many areas,” he said. “The only guarantee is if you do or say nothing, this situation will never change.”

For the family members of Jason Rivenburg, there is no question in their minds about where he would be today if given the opportunity to park and rest where he was set to unload.

 “In Jason’s case, he would be alive today to see his twins born had he been allowed to park where he was to unload his truck,” Tim Hardendorf said.

 

clarissa_kell-holland@landlinemag.com

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