Truckers sues Flying J over false accusations

| 10/31/2001

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