Trucker fired, billed by carrier after woman's suicide attempt

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | Friday, March 16, 2007

Robert Polkamp was disappointed that his company fired him three weeks into his stint as a company driver for USF Glen Moore, based in Carlisle, PA.

But the 20-year veteran of trucking was absolutely stunned one week later.

Polkamp was one of two truckers who on Feb. 24 swerved to avoid a suicidal woman on Interstate 83 in Pennsylvania. As a result, Polkamp's company tractor was totaled. The company fired Polkamp three days later, after he complained that a maintenance worker had approved brakes that the Polkamp believed weren't safe.

Polkamp said his final paycheck from USF Glen Moore didn't include a single dollar for his last week of work, and actually showed a negative balance of $1,031.

"I'm a really straight guy - I own a house, I've got two kids," Polkamp said. "When you get kicked in the nuts like that while you're just trying to do the right thing - it really gets to you."

According to Pennsylvania State Police, a 63-year-old woman attempted to kill herself by slamming her four-wheeler into the back of a tractor-trailer on Interstate 83 in York County, PA.

After the initial crash, the woman got out of her car and ran into the traffic on I-83, where she was hit by a tractor-trailer driven by Kent Gogbill, 54, of Allendale, MI.

Pennsylvania State Police didn't reveal the woman's name, but the Patriot-News newspaper identified Beverly J. Grove as the driver who twice attempted suicide.

Grove survived the incident but needed serious medical treatment, Polkamp said.

Immediately after the wreck, USF Glen Moore paid for Polkamp's overnight stay at a hotel while he waited on a replacement tractor, and Polkamp said the company never indicated he was in trouble for the accident.

But on Feb. 27, Polkamp said, he told his supervisor that he felt the truck's brakes may have needed adjusting before the wreck. A tractor assignment check sheet Polkamp faxed to Land Line showed that on Feb. 14 Polkamp identified a heavy groove and a "quarter-inch lip" on the brake drive drums.

Next to the comment is an OK and a signature from a man Polkamp says worked in the trucking company's maintenance department.

Polkamp said the company didn't want to hear about the maintenance issue following the Feb. 24 wreck.

"I made an indication that I thought the drive drums were way out of spec," Polkamp said. "That's when the focus completely changed."

A copy of Polkamp's last pay stub from USF Glen Moore shows his pay to be $0.00, with deductions of $1,034 - for the cost of the truck tow after the wreck and $250 for driver orientation.

Polkamp said he has about 24 years of truck driving under his belt but had only been working for USF Glen Moore for three weeks before the accident.

Polkamp said he's concerned that USF Glen Moore filed negative reports about him at DAC Services Inc., which collects information about commercial drivers from carriers that subscribe to the service.

"I don't necessarily fault them for firing me," Polkamp said. "Just allow me the opportunity to work somewhere else."

The Pennsylvania State Police report of the incident showed neither of the two truck drivers to be at fault.

"Operator 1 (Polkamp) will not be cited due to the fact that the crash occurred as a result of the woman in the roadway," the State Police report of the incident stated.

Mark Respass, USF Glen Moore's senior director of safety, declined to explain why Polkamp was fired.

"We don't comment on personnel issues," Respass said.

Respass denied that Polkamp was charged for the towing of the company's tractor after the wreck.

"He would not be billed for that," Respass said. "He's going around to various newspapers and magazines trying to make a federal case out of this but I'm not going to fuel the fire . I don't know what his motivation is."

USF Glen Moore's Web site says the company employs more than 800 drivers and made $86.3 million in revenue in 2000.

Polkamp said he felt bad for Grove, who Polkamp said was comforted by four-wheeler drivers as her legs were pinned for 45 minutes at the wreck scene.

The veteran driver, however, said he's also frustrated by Grove's actions.

"I cannot imagine jumping in front of a tractor trailer - I'm sure she was in a very bad place," Polkamp said. "I found her choice to be very selfish because so many people ended up being directly involved in her misery. But, I have no ill will to Ms. Grove whatsoever."

 ?- By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

charlie_morasch@landlinemag.com

 

 

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