Know your rights: readers respond to Effingham police searches

| 12/4/2007

News spreads fast among the trucking community.

Several Land Line readers and OOIDA members called and wrote letters regarding an investigation at a Flying J truck stop in Effingham, IL on Friday, Nov. 30.

A news story posted on Land Line Magazine’s Web site Friday detailed OOIDA member Richard Donais’s story. Donais, who awoke to policemen knocking on his truck door early that morning, gave consent to allow police to search his Volvo dry van but said he isn’t sure whether he wants to stay at the Flying J in Effingham again.

More than a dozen e-mails were received by magazine staff during the weekend from several truckers who said they’d never seen investigation circumstances as bizarre as the one Donais experienced.

Jeana Hysell, director of safety for one motor carrier, said drivers should have some safe haven where they won’t be hassled by authorities.

“When drivers park in a truck stop, the drivers are aware of lot lizards waking them up, but COPS?” Hysell wrote to Land Line.

The police chief in Altimont, IL, confirmed that his officers began an investigation detail at 6 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, in conjunction with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

DEA Spokesman Chuck Waley has not returned phone messages to Land Line.

According to a May 2006 Land Line story titled, “You don’t mind if I look inside your truck, do you?”, police may search a truck if consent is given, if drugs or open alcohol containers are in plain view, or if the driver has already been placed under arrest.

Consent may be given by the driver, a team-driving partner or in-cab spouse or even a driver’s company, but the driver always has the right to say no.

Jeff McConnell, an attorney and co-author of Land Line’s “Road Law” column, was quoted in the 2006 story saying that “in many jurisdictions, when an officer asks to search and you say nothing, it’s the same as giving your consent.”

Several readers also questioned whether a driver must return to their sleeper to log eight additional hours if police interrupt their mandatory rest period.

OOIDA Member Rocky Stonecypher said he believed someone with authority at the truck stop would have to give permission for police to search the outside of vehicles or trucks.

“If not, did they have search warrants listing who and what was to be searched?” Stonecypher said.

Bruce Cox agreed.

“We should all boycott that location,” Cox wrote. “It would send a message that we will only park in a safe haven.”

Not every driver puts a premium on personal privacy. Trucker Ann Omeara wrote that safety is also a consideration.

“I wonder what my fellow truckers would say if a dirty bomb went off in the parking lot,” wrote Omeara. “They can search me anytime, anywhere.  It makes me feel safe.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer