Sleepy trucker's crash epitomizes dire need for truck parking

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

When Glen Hamblin’s eyes opened, all he could see was a concrete barrier drawing closer.

The 53-year-old truck driver from Hyrum, Utah, had fallen asleep at the wheel after he said he was unable to find a legal place to park while delivering a load of potatoes in North Carolina. Hamblin’s truck, which he purchased less than two months earlier, smashed into the barrier before fuel and thousands of pounds of potatoes spilled onto Interstate 77 about 2 a.m. on May 6 in Charlotte. The impact of the crash caused the engine to be thrown out of the vehicle, which overturned and started on fire.

Hamblin was taken to a local hospital with several cuts, but he escaped major injury and was released soon after.

“I want to see photos from the wreck,” Hamblin said days after the single-vehicle accident. “I want to know how I survived.”

Hamblin said he still had an hour left to drive on his hours of service, but he could feel himself becoming drowsy. However, Hamblin said he couldn’t find a legal place to park.

“I was looking for a rest area, but I couldn’t find any safe place to park,” Hamblin said. “On the East Coast, if you’re not parked before dark then there is no parking. Every physical spot is taken.”

Hamblin also knew that parking on the shoulder or an off ramp was not a legal option.

In June 2015, the North Carolina Highway Patrol announced a statewide effort to stop vehicles from parking illegally along the interstate. According to a Charlotte Observer story from November 2015, the North Carolina Highway Patrol issued 261 no-parking tickets on interstate highways in June, July and August combined. The same article reported that North Carolina issued only 70 illegal interstate parking tickets in all of 2014.

The troopers on the scene issued Hamblin a ticket for being unable to maintain control of his vehicle.

“He told the trooper at the scene that he knew we (North Carolina) would write citations for trucks parking on the interstate, which we do,” North Carolina Highway Patrol spokesman John Burgin said. “He said he started to feel sleepy but didn’t want to get pulled over.”

The circumstances of the accident struck a nerve with many truck drivers. OOIDA and Land Line Facebook posts about the crash yielded hundreds of “likes,” shares and comments.

“The way FMCSA is running truck drivers, there will be more wrecks like this along the East Coast,” one reader commented.

Others specifically tackled the lack of safe and legal parking.

“They need to build more parking areas for trucks, not RVs or cars, just trucks,” another Land Line reader posted. “The FMCSA rules and e-logs are causing more fatigue than ever before. Get real; we need places to park. Safe places.”

Another reader said: “North Carolina is getting known for its love to write tickets for this stuff. There are not that many places anywhere near Charlotte to park, and the ones that are there are jam-packed. I avoid the area like the plague. It’s ridiculous considering North Carolina has a lot of truck drivers from there and a ton of freight going in and out.”

The need for legal and safe parking certainly isn’t a new issue. Truck driver Jason Rivenburg was robbed and killed in 2009 after he pulled into an abandoned roadside gas station to take a nap. That incident prompted the 2013 passing of Jason’s Law, which tries to give truckers better access to safe rest areas.

However, a lack of safe and legal parking for truck drivers remains an issue. OOIDA Life Member Jerry Matson was shot in the stomach during a robbery attempt after parking to sleep at a public area on Dec. 15, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. Earlier that night, Matson had been told he couldn’t park at O.co Coliseum where he was making a delivery.

Hamblin, a truck driver for 11 years, said he has often been confronted by a lack of parking.

“I told the officers that they have to consider that there is no place to park,” he said. “Shopping centers won’t let you park there anymore either.

“I normally only haul in the western states, but freight has been so low I took this in the East. Parking is always a problem once you cross the Mississippi. California is also bad, and there’s no parking within 50 miles of Seattle. I have a spot in that area I don’t tell anyone about, because I don’t want anyone to find it.”

Hamblin, who has used electronic logs in the past, said the device adds to the fatigue problem.

“E-logs do not work,” Hamblin said. “The company wants you to get your miles in. So when the e-log says you can drive, then you drive. Maybe your body doesn’t say it’s time to drive. With electronic logs, you drive tired.”

Now, Hamblin is regretting his own decision to drive tired.

“Obviously in hindsight, I would have pulled over and taken the ticket,” Hamblin said. “Paying a ticket would be a lot better than not having a truck. But that’s why they say hindsight is 20/20.”

Hamblin said this was his first wreck in 11 years. Still, the operator of Hamblin & Sons Transportation said he is calling an end to his career as a truck driver and is looking for new employment.

“I’m not going to go back to driving a truck,” he said. “It’s too hard to drive for someone else. And quite frankly, I don’t want to take the chance of something going wrong again. I’m worried that every time I’d get in the truck I’d still see that barrier.”LL

Land Line Now Anchor Reed Black contributed to this article.