It's been more than 10 months
since truckdriver Michael Stamathis was arrested and accused of stealing fuel
at the Flying J Travel Center in Wytheville, VA. Now, he is suing Flying J
and the employee who had him arrested.
Stamathis filed the lawsuit in federal
court Oct. 25 against Flying J Travel Plaza and David L. Hansen, the employee
who he says accused him of stealing and using drugs. Stamathis, of Maryland,
says he was defamed, maliciously prosecuted and not allowed to do his work
because of the arrest. He is asking for $600,000 in damages.
Stamathis says he pulled into the truckstop
at exit 77 off I-81 and I-77 around 7:55 p.m. on Dec. 18 and waited with the
other trucks backed up to the ramp waiting to get fuel. It was 8:10 p.m. when
he finally pulled up to the pump and inserted his fuel card into the pump
card reader, which accepted his card. He then put in a frequent fueler card,
but it was denied. When the pump did not work, Stamathis called the fuel clerk
using the pump-side phone and gave the clerk his identifying information.
After fueling his truck, Stamathis
moved his truck so other truckers could get to the pumps. After not finding
a parking spot in the truckstop lot, he finally parked at the Citgo convenience
store next door, like many other drivers do. As Stamathis retrieved his shower
bag and a change of clothes, a sheriff's deputy arrested him. According
to Stamathis, he told the officer he had not stolen any fuel and was just
on his way back to Flying J after parking his truck and getting his shower
bag. As he explained the problems he had with the fuel card reader, Hansen
from the Flying J came over and insisted the officer arrest Stamathis for
stealing fuel. Stamathis was handcuffed, taken to the police station, charged
with petit larceny for stealing 100 gallons of diesel fuel and released on
his own recognizance.
Stamathis says in addition to calling
the sheriff's office, Hansen also called Stamathis' employer (J-Mar
Trucking in Alabama) and told a dispatcher that Stamathis had left without
paying for fuel and was on drugs. Additionally, he told the dispatcher the
sheriff had taken Stamathis to the station for testing. Hansen then went to
the sheriff's department, filed a criminal complaint against Stamathis and
suggested the deputy should perform a drug test on Stamathis.
While Stamathis was being booked at
the sheriff's office, his fuel purchase was processed back at the Flying
J. In March, the criminal complaint was dismissed after he produced the fuel
card transaction report with the date and time Flying J processed the payment.
Stamathis also says he feels betrayed
by J-Mar. Before charges against him were dropped, Stamathis said he complained
all the way up to J-Mar's vice president with not results. Stamathis
believes his employer's lack of support was fueled by the company's
alleged fuel contract with Flying J. Stamathis has since left the company.
By Rene Tankersley, feature editor