By Charlie Morasch, staff writer
In August 2009, Thaddeus Mathews purchased and installed a new chrome bumper for his 1996 Kenworth.
For three weeks the bumper led Mathews’ truck as he made runs north to the Midwest before returning back home to Burleson, TX.
From Sept. 4, 2009 until April 2011, the bumper was in the possession of the Hillsboro, TX, police department – a small town squad that twice failed to make charges stick against Mathews, a 55-year-old veteran trucker with a clean record.
Mathews, an OOIDA senior member, spent a year and a half with a charge of felony aggravated assault with a motor vehicle hanging over his head. That cloud, however, recently lifted after prosecutors dropped all charges.
“My wife was saying, ‘You mean to tell me it was dismissed?’” Mathews said. “It’s over!”
The 18-month nightmare started when Mathews said he noticed a car that was very close to the front of his truck during a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on I-35. Police claimed Mathews struck the car multiple times and said they had paint shavings taken from both bumpers to prove it. Thaddeus refuted the claims made by the police and the alleged victim.
The evidence? It never materialized.
In fact, the Texas state attorney assigned to prosecute the case told a judge “the evidence from the scene showed that the damage to the ‘victim’s’ vehicle was so minimal, that it was inconsistent with any intent to harm, but was more likely a minor accident.”
Unfortunately, the case highlighted the power some police departments wield inside the Lone Star State.
Starting with the night of his arrest, Mathews spent seven days in jail while held on a $250,000 bond. In that week, Hillsboro police filed a civil claim in court to take ownership of his truck.
Six months after his arrest, a grand jury in Hill County, TX, indicted Mathews for aggravated assault with a vehicle.
In late December, Mathews was cleared by a special prosecutor, who dropped the charge. Mathews said he even received an apology from the prosecutor.
“He said it shouldn’t have been pushed as far as it was,” Mathews said. “They didn’t have evidence to jail me for what they jailed me for.”
In December 2009, Land Line Magazine featured Mathews’ story in an article titled “Hill County blues.”
Mathews lost his job after the arrest, and the ordeal has cost him $8,000 in legal fees. He has continued to work in trucking, and said he’s not quite ready to retire.
In mid-April, the police finally relinquished Mathews’ bumper. The day he picked it up, a Hillsboro police captain told Mathews he’d read Land Line’s articles, and hoped there were no hard feelings. He stuck out his hand.
“Mmm-hmm,” Mathews, answered, rejecting the gesture.
But on a recent night in April, he polished it up and reinstalled the bumper to its rightful place. As he tightened the bolts, he felt a sense of justice. LL