Trucking tragedies turn widows into champions for change

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 2/1/2012

Sarah VanWasshnova says she was checking her voicemail during her lunch hour on Wednesday, Feb. 1, when she received the news that the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s highway bill included provisions to study crashworthiness standards in truck cabs.

“My sixth period class was coming in, and they were filtering in as I was still listening to the message,” she told Land Line on Feb. 1. “I just started crying, not hysterical, but they could see that I looked happy and the tears were flowing.”

Sarah Van Wasshnova, of Port Orange, FL, who teaches high school English, lost her husband, Carl, in a tragic accident more than two years ago. He was only going approximately 30 mph when he veered across the median to avoid a possible collision in front of him and hit an empty FedEx trailer. He died from blunt force trauma after hitting the steering column during the crash.

“If there would have been an airbag, maybe it would have protected him by maintaining a space between him and the steering column,” she said.

As a way to honor her husband’s memory, she started a letter-writing campaign for tougher crashworthiness standards for manufacturers of heavy trucks after finding out that airbags, which are mandatory in passenger vehicles, are not required in heavy truck cabs. One of her letters reached OOIDA headquarters because Carl, a 30-year trucking veteran, was an OOIDA member.

Nearly a year ago, Sarah and her son, Jeff, met with U.S. lawmakers and their staff to share Carl’s story and the importance of tougher crashworthiness standards for heavy trucks. Laura O’Neill, OOIDA’s director of government affairs, also attended those meetings.

“Jeff was down on spring break and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Washington with me?’ and he said, ‘Sure mom; for Carl, I will do anything,’” Sarah said. “He loved Carl, too.”

She said she is determined to see this through as a way to honor her husband’s memory and show her students that “one person can put forth a cause and make a difference.”

“I see these commercials for passenger vehicles that come equipped with 10 airbags, when most commercial vehicles don’t have even one airbag,” Sarah said. “I want everyone to know that truck drivers’ lives are just as important as the lives of those in passenger vehicles.”

Hope Rivenburg continues fight for truck parking
Earlier on Wednesday, Feb. 1, Hope Rivenburg received the tragic news that her aunt, Sandy Hardendorf, had lost her battle with leukemia.

A while later, she received a phone call with the news that truck parking provisions were in the House’s four-year surface transportation bill.

“This news is more important than anybody knows right now,” Hope told Land Line on Wednesday.

After all, Hope credits Sandy Hardendorf with writing the initial Jason’s Law petition just days after Jason Rivenburg was fatally shot while parked at an abandoned gas station in March 2009. The petition now has nearly 12,000 signatures.

“It’s fitting that I get this news on the day Aunt Sandy passed away,” Hope said. “My grandmother always said that when someone dies, a baby is born. She (Sandy) would be so ecstatic to know that truck parking is included in the highway bill because she started the campaign for Jason’s Law legislation for secure parking for truckers.”

Hope has traveled several times to Washington, DC, to meet with lawmakers and tell Jason’s story and the importance of secure truck parking

Recently, she stood alongside U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, and OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer as a “Jason’s Law” bill was reintroduced in May 2011.

In 2009, Hope’s husband Jason arrived early with his load of milk at the Food Lion distribution center in Elloree, SC. He was turned away because his appointment time wasn’t until 8 a.m. the following morning. His delivery never took place because he was fatally shot and robbed for $7 after parking at an unlit, abandoned gas station about 12 miles from where he was scheduled to unload the following morning.

Hope gave birth to twins nearly two weeks after her husband was killed.

“All truck drivers deserve to have a safe place to park,” she said.

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