Truckers urged to call lawmakers on anniversary of slain trucker’s death

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 3/5/2010

A year ago on March 5, 2009, truck driver Jason Rivenburg was fatally shot while parked in his rig for the night at an abandoned gas station near St. Matthews, SC.

As a way to honor her husband’s memory, Hope Rivenburg is urging all truck drivers and their families to help her in her quest for safe parking options on the one-year anniversary of his death.

She, along with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, is urging everyone to pick up the phone on Friday and call their lawmakers to support two Jason’s Law bills in the House and Senate.

She told Land Line on Wednesday, March 3, that her goal is to have another 100 lawmakers sign on as co-sponsors to the bills in the next couple of weeks.

“I know that’s a lot to accomplish, and I need every driver’s help to make this happen,” Rivenburg told Land Line. We’ve gotten this far, but we can’t do the rest without everyone’s support.”

She admits her plate is full. She gave birth to twins, who will soon be a year old, and faced her husband’s killer in court, but she also has been working tirelessly to bring awareness to the need for more safe truck parking.

“I don’t want this to happen to another trucker’s family,” she told Land Line recently.

Because Jason arrived too early for his delivery, he was turned away from the distribution center where he had an appointment the next morning. He was forced to seeking parking in an unlit area where he was killed not long after his arrival.

In December 2009, Hope Rivenburg was in the courtroom when a South Carolina judge sentenced Willie Pelzer, 23, to life in prison without parole for killing her husband for the mere $7 he had on him.

She said in court she learned that Pelzer watched Jason pull into the unlit gas station from across the street at another gas station. She also learned that Pelzer texted a friend around 10:37 p.m. the night of the murder, then made his way toward Jason’s truck. Pelzer hid under the trailer and waited for an opportunity.

“He (Pelzer) waited for about 20 minutes for Jason to get distracted before he shot him,” Hope said.

Jason was on the phone with a friend when he was killed. Jason’s time of death is estimated to have occurred at 10:56 p.m. Hope said that by 11 p.m., Pelzer had murdered Jason, turned his cell phone back on and was texting again.

OOIDA’s Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the shortage of safe places for truckers to park “is a problem that has been simmering under the surface, largely unnoticed by all except for the drivers who struggle with it regularly.”

“Truck drivers are tasked with meeting the daily needs of all of us as consumers – to deliver our essentials,” Spencer told Land Line on March 4. “If they can’t get needed rest in safe and secure places, this system fails. Drivers, as well as all others in the supply chain, should be behind this effort.”

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY, introduced HR2156 not long after meeting Hope and her three small children. The bill currently has 35 co-sponsors, including two lawmakers, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-FL, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, who signed on to the Jason’s Law bill just this past week.

Tonko said that “building support will be the quickest way to make Jason’s Law a reality.”

“Jason’s death was unnecessary and preventable. We can no longer tolerate this shortage of safe rest areas,” Tonko told Land Line. “We cannot have truck drivers looking for dimly lit dead-end streets, back alleys and abandoned strip malls to comply with legally required rest periods.”

Sen. Charles Schumer introduced a similar Jason’s Law bill in the Senate. His bill has one co-sponsor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.

Tonko said a similar tragedy is inevitable the longer the truck parking problem is ignored.

“If we are going to mandate resting periods for truckers, then we need to provide the resources for local governments and the private sector to make sure rest sites are safe and readily available,” Tonko said. “As we mark the one-year anniversary of Jason’s death, I call on truckers and my colleagues in Congress to voice their support for Jason’s Law so we can make our roads safer for everyone.”

Hope and her family – including her son Josh, 3, and her twins Hezekiah and Logan, who were born just 13 days after their dad’s death – believe the support for these bills is desperately needed as more states close down rest areas because of budget cuts.

“Jason was just doing his job, and this is what happened to him,” she said. You don’t want to think that something like this could happen to someone you love, but it does.”