By Sandi Soendker
For OOIDA member plaintiff Stephen House and his wife, Jeanette, it should have been a simple run through a weigh station.
The 30-year trucking veteran and his wife were in their Kenworth, traveling from their home in Springdale, WA, and headed to Michigan to provide support to a sick relative, diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Even though Jeanette has a CDL, she doesn’t normally run with Steve. However, because of the situation, she joined him on the trip.
The couple was traveling on I-94 when they came up to the Red River Scale just inside Minnesota.
“When we approached the scale, it was obvious there was something going on that we had never seen before,” says Jeanette.
“The Red River scale in Minnesota is quite modern with a large parking area for trucks. Almost every parking spot was filled with a truck,” she recalls. “In front of the majority of the trucks was a patrol car parked with the lights flashing, giving me the impression that the patrol cars were positioned to keep the trucks from leaving.”
Jeanette and Steve were instantly alarmed. She says it reminded her of a “movie scene of a checkpoint in a communist country.” Steve said it was “crazy.”
“It almost seemed like there must have been a horrible crime committed, having never seen so many patrol cars with lights flashing in one place,” said Jeanette.
Steve was behind the wheel. As he proceeded to ease away from the stop sign, civilian Commercial Vehicle Inspector Christopher Norton ran toward the truck.
“He jumped up on the side of our truck and starting hollering right in Steve’s face,” Jeanette describes, “like we were subhuman ...”
Steve and Jeanette say that Norton called the rest of his team over to their Kenworth.
After Steve was questioned in a windowless room inside the scale by civilian inspectors Norton and James Ullmer, Steve was put out of service for fatigue.
Steve says that the pair asked him about his neck size and how many times he used the restroom at night, whether he had a television or computer in his cab, and if he had any Playboy magazines in his cab. He said both Norton and Ullmer used a checklist.
What Steve and Jeanette experienced is what the Minnesota State Patrol calls a “FIST” saturation.
FIST stands for Fatigue Impairment Seatbelt Traffic. During the trial, documents revealed statistics from FIST saturations. One example: On one single day during a FIST saturation, 66 percent of truckers stopped were put out of service for fatigue.
Before the federal trial began in St. Paul, Steve trucked to Minnesota. He arrived nearly a week early and slept in his truck in a truck stop, waiting for the trial to begin on Sept. 13. Steve was a named plaintiff and would testify. Jeanette came in on Sept. 9. She would testify, too.
Their testimony was sincere and confident. They had made it clear that they were “seeing this through” and committing themselves to being part of the lawsuit so others – including their sons, both truckers – could truck through Minnesota “without fear of this outrageous fatigue enforcement program.” LL
Land Line Now Host Mark H. Reddig contributed to this article.