Deadly face-off

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

A 51-year-old truck driver from Kentucky opened the driver’s side door of his Peterbilt as a fellow truck driver approached. The other trucker, Bryan Tackett, began yelling, and it took only a few moments for the situation to escalate.

Less than a minute later, Tackett was pleading for help as he lay chest-down on the pavement with two gunshot wounds to the stomach.

What happened exactly during the one-minute confrontation that led to the shooting and, ultimately, Tackett’s death depends on who you ask. Regardless, for truck drivers, it’s a sobering reminder that road rage, a push-and-shove, a CB fight or a simple argument can quickly turn deadly.

The trucker from Kentucky fired three shots, two of which struck Tackett, from a Raven Arms .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol at 10:39 a.m. on Feb. 15 at the Pilot Travel Center in Pacific, Mo.

Tackett, 50, of Hamlin, W.Va., was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital in Washington, Mo., less than an hour after the shooting.

“I just shot a man for beating me,” the shooter told a 911 dispatcher shortly after the incident. “He was at the fuel island, and he came up and started beating me in the face. I don’t know why.

“He came up to the truck and went to cussing. I was just trying to get fuel, and he grabbed me and went to beating on me.”

Tackett wasn’t armed, and the two witnesses at the scene provided different accounts to police. The shooter claimed self-defense, and the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office didn’t pursue charges. The case is closed.

It started as a typical morning

By all accounts, it appeared to be a typical morning in Bryan Tackett’s life. A truck driver for 25 years, Tackett picked up a load of Red Gold tomato ketchup in Alexandria, Ind., to be delivered in Midwest City, Okla. At about 8 a.m., he spoke on the phone to his brother, Jeff Tackett, who worked for the same Springfield, Mo., trucking company.

“I was in Texas that morning, and Bryan called me,” Jeff Tackett said. “We’d always talk about where we were going that day. It was the usual chit-chat.

“It seemed like a normal day. It was just Bryan being Bryan. We were just shooting the breeze like brothers do.”

At 9:35 a.m., Bryan Tackett stopped at a Pilot Travel Center off Interstate 55 in Troy, Ill., which is about 58 miles from Pacific, Mo., and bought a hot dog, a cup of coffee, and a roll of Bounty paper towels. Tackett didn’t get fuel in Troy, but he made plans with his dispatcher to do so at the company terminal in Strafford, Mo.

The truck driver from Kentucky was headed toward Fort Smith, Ark., and he told police that he stopped that morning for fuel in East St. Louis, which is about 40 miles from Pacific.

The reason both truck drivers exited off I-44 and parked at the Pilot fuel island in Pacific so soon after their previous stops isn’t completely clear.

During a police interview, the shooter told Det. Jeremy Lynn that he stopped in Pacific because he forgot to purchase a can of Copenhagen chewing tobacco. He also told police that he always kept his .25 pistol in his pocket as protection.

The shooter said he had never previously met Tackett and didn’t know why he was upset. The argument at the fuel island started with the truck driver from Kentucky still in the truck but with the door open.

“I (was) getting (my) coat on and getting out when (Tackett) came in front of (my) truck and starts yelling at me,” the shooter wrote in his voluntary statement.

He told police Tackett was cussing at him and saying things about his mother. The shooter is 5-foot-6 and 210 pounds. Tackett was 5-11 and 215 pounds.

“(Tackett said) he was going to kick my ass. I told him to go away,” the shooter said.

“Apparently somebody cussed him out on the interstate, so he come in looking to fight.”

He then said that he started to get out of the cab of his truck to go into the Pilot to buy some Copenhagen, because he said he thought Tackett was leaving.

“I come down out of the truck, shut the door, turn around,” the shooter told police. “He comes back at me. (He said) I ought to stomp your ass. I said, ‘you know, the best thing you can do is leave me alone before you get hurt.’

“Anyway, he lunged at me. … I mean he grabbed ahold of me.”

Det. Lynn followed by asking the shooter exactly how Tackett grabbed him.

“I don’t honestly know. I know he was knocking me back. He hit me in the chest. I don’t know if it was with his head or his hand.”

Det. Lynn checked to see if the shooter had any marks or injuries from the altercation and determined that his skin was red but that there weren’t any obvious marks.

“So he hit you somehow in the chest?” Det. Lynn then asked.

“Well, he had ahold of me,” the shooter responded. “I mean, he didn’t hit. I’m saying he didn’t throw nothing. He …”

Det. Lynn interrupted, asking exactly where Tackett had grabbed ahold of him.

Although the shooter said he wasn’t sure where Tackett grabbed him, he told the detective that he was being forced back against the concrete barrier blocking the pump at the end of the fuel island when he reached for the gun in his pocket.

“He had ahold of me is all I know,” he said. “I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t know … He was making me go back down. He said, ‘I’m going to whoop your ass.’ I said, ‘No sir, you’re not going to hurt me.’ And that’s when I shot him.”

Witnesses provide their accounts

After the shots were fired, the shooter stood over Tackett’s body for several seconds before re-entering the cab of his truck and driving away from the fuel island.

The shooter drove off, but he didn’t leave the truck stop grounds. He called 911 and told the dispatcher that Tackett had been “beating (him) in the face” while he was “trying to get fuel.” When he later talked to police, he said no punches were thrown and that he was at the truck stop just to get Copenhagen.

Samuel Cusmano, a 51-year-old truck driver from Eastpointe, Mich., who was parked next to the shooter’s truck and was washing his own truck’s windows during the altercation, told police that both men were yelling at each other. Cusmano said he wasn’t sure what the two men were arguing about.

“(Tackett) said, ‘Come out of the truck and say that to me down here,’” Cusmano told Land Line. “Then the next thing you know, the shooter got out of the truck. They were standing face to face, and he pulled the gun out and shot (Tackett) twice in the gut.”

Cusmano told police that he never saw the physical confrontation between the two drivers. However, surveillance video from the Pilot Travel Center indicated there was a brief struggle between the shooter and Tackett. The video was taken from across the parking lot, however, and few details are able to be determined.

The Kentucky trucker fired three shots. Two hit Tackett, and the other struck a lug nut cover on the wheel of a truck.

Desmond Talley, a 26-year-old from Houston, was walking up the stairs from the Pilot Travel Center and walking toward the fuel island about 75 yards away when he first heard the shooter and Tackett arguing.

“I stopped at the top (of the stairs) to watch, and I saw the guy who got shot standing outside a big red truck saying ‘Get your bad ass out of the truck. Come on, let’s go.’ The driver got out, and (Tackett) grabbed the driver by the neck,” Talley wrote in his voluntary statement to police. “Then I heard three shots and then (Tackett) fell, and the driver stood over him and said something. Then he got in his truck and drove off.”

Throughout the interview with police, the shooter maintained that the only reason he stopped at the truck stop in Pacific was because he forgot to buy chewing tobacco at his previous stop in East St. Louis, and that he had no interaction with Tackett out on the highway.

“I don’t know if somebody made him mad. I don’t know if he didn’t like the way I combed my hair this morning,” he said. “I don’t know, mister.”

Capt. Don Locke of the Pacific Police Department said given the evidence at hand, police had to assume that the argument started at the truck stop.

During the police interview, the shooter told police he wasn’t using his CB and wasn’t involved in any incidents on the highway.

“I mean, I didn’t run anybody off the road, because I’d just come off the interstate … hadn’t had any problems,” he told Det. Lynn. “So you know, I don’t know (why Tackett was upset). I listen to the Sirius satellite radio. You can go to that truck right now. The CB’s turned off, and the music radio is turned on.

“The jabbering, the carrying on, the talking about each other’s wives and kids, I’m not in to the rest of that … You know, they call them (CB) Rambos, everybody’s going to whoop everybody’s butt and everything.”

In the end, police were left with two witnesses other than the shooter, one saying Tackett attacked the shooter and the other saying he didn’t see an attack. The shooter was released soon after the incident. Pacific Police filed an application to the prosecuting attorney for charges of felony first-degree assault and felony unlawful use of a weapon. The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office did not pursue charges.

Franklin County Prosecutor Robert Parks declined several interview requests with Land Line, but told the Washington Missourian newspaper in an article on Feb. 17 that the incident was a case of self-defense. The same article reported that police said the altercation may have begun on I-44.

“There was video from the truck stop and a witness who verified the shooter’s statement that (Tackett) came up and pushed him, and he defended himself,” Parks told The Missourian.

Locke said it was only the second case in his 10 years with the Pacific Police that had been determined to be self-defense.

Tussle turns tragic

Jeff Tackett, who has been a truck driver for about 30 years, said Bryan got into the business after seeing his pay stubs from the 1980s. A little more than two years ago, Jeff convinced Bryan to work for the same company and told him that he could move in with him and his wife, Debra. Bryan didn’t have any children and never married.

“It was always me and Bryan,” Jeff Tackett said. “We were going to truck until we died.

“He was a great guy. He’d help anybody. He’d give you the shirt off his back if he thought it would help you.”

Jeff Tackett contacted Land Line after he read Parks’ statement to The Missourian online that referenced Tackett pushing the shooter.

“I’m sure Bryan got out and thought they were going to tussle a little bit, roll around on the ground, and then get up and walk away,” Jeff said.

“We all have our faults. I get mad at traffic. Everybody does. And, yes, people get on the CB and talk their stupidity, but to die over it? For a push? That’s a high price for a push, ain’t it?”

The shooter declined the opportunity to tell his story to Land Line.

“I don’t really feel comfortable talking about it,” he said. “It was an unfortunate incident. I have nothing bad to say about him. It was just a bad deal.”

Capt. Locke said these types of cases are difficult for everyone involved.

“I feel terrible for both families involved. … I hope they’re doing well.” LL

Editor’s note: Land Line Magazine did not identify the shooter because he was not charged in the incident by the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office."