19 months since truckdriver Michael Stamathis was arrested and
accused of stealing $138 worth of diesel at the Flying J Travel
Center in Wytheville, VA, in December 2000, but he finally got
his day in court. After a two-day trial ending July 17, the federal
jury awarded Stamathis $705,000 in damages from Flying J and manager
David L. Hansen for malicious prosecution and defamation.
wasn't the money, it's the principal," Stamathis told Land
Line. "I'm taking a stand for every hardworking truckdriver.
It wasn't me they were trying to screw over that night, it was
which was $105,000 more than Stamathis asked for in his lawsuit,
included $250,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $450,000
in punitive damages against Flying J and $5,000 against Hansen.
even think they could do that," Stamathis said. "I was
in shock." The Maryland trucker, whose story was chronicled
in Land Line last year, said he pulled into the Wytheville Flying
J at exit 77 off I-81 and I-77 in Wytheville around 7:55 p.m.
Dec. 18, 2000, 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 said
he called the fuel clerk using the pump-side phone and gave the
clerk his identifying information.
his truck, Stamathis said he 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 reports he was handcuffed, taken to the police station,
charged with petty larceny for stealing 100 gallons of diesel
fuel and released on his own recognizance.
says in addition to calling the sheriff's office, Hansen also
called Stamathis' employer (J-Mar Trucking in Alabama) and told
a dispatcher 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
has since left J-Mar Trucking. His attorney Paul Klockenbrink
of Roanoke, VA, said Stamathis felt betrayed by the trucking company,
who had an account with Flying J. Before charges against him were
dropped, Stamathis said he complained all the way up to J-Mar's
vice president with no results.
the Roanoke attorney who represented Flying J and Hansen, expressed
his disappointment at the jury verdict in a statement to the Roanoke
Times. "On behalf of Flying J and its employee. Flying J
and Mr. Hansen have maintained that their actions were very appropriate
under the circumstances. We will explore all legal options available
to Flying J at this time."
said the case hinged on whether or not Flying J and its employee
had probable cause to believe Stamathis intended to steal fuel.
jury just wasn't buying the defense's argument," Klockenbrink
said. "When you're going to mess with someone's life and
job, you must have your ducks in a row."
lawsuit behind him, Stamathis is considering his employment options.
"I'm trying to find a company that doesn't use Flying J for
their fuel stops. Or, maybe I could buy my own truck."
--René Tankersley, feature editor