On Monday, Dec. 13, the flags at the courthouse and around the county flew at half-staff, honoring the life and tragic death of former Meade County Highway Department worker Gene Hobbs. This week marked the fifth anniversary of that terrible day when a dump truck full of rock backed over Gene as he raked gravel on the side of the road with his back to the truck. A faulty back-up alarm on the truck and the absence of spotters ultimately led to Gene’s death.
Since that terrible day, flags have flown at half-staff every Dec. 13, but Judge/executive Leslie Stith decided to take it a step further this year. The decision was not only to honor Gene’s life, but to also ensure that this kind of tragedy never falls upon Meade County again.
“It’s a stand down for Gene,” explained Judge Stith. “I wrote up an executive order to first off recognize his death—he died five years ago today. Then, we have flags at half-staff that was an executive order from Judge Lynn, and I wanted to take it one step farther and have any department that operates a vehicle for the county to take 30 minutes to talk to their employees about some type of safety topic. It’s being called a Stand Down for Safety, in memory of Gene.”
At the highway department, all the trucks were lined up as Supervisor Jeff Padgett and all his employees walked around the trucks, checking them and testing the back-up alarms.
“Every truck has a check sheet and every morning the drivers go through and check their lights, back-up alarms, oil level and all that. That is something we have put into place since the accident. We turn those in every Friday, and they get put in a folder. Then, the Judge’s office sends someone down to make sure we are doing it,” Padgett said. “Also, along with those check sheets, we do once a month training and sign-in sheets go in that same folder. It all gets checked now to make sure it happens.”
As we stood there, an employee hopped in one of the truck’s and engaged the back-up alarm which rang out through the air. Lisa Hobbs, Gene’s wife, has always said that one of her greatest hopes was that procedures would be put in place to ensure no family of a county worker ever has to go through what she did when a spouse never comes back home from their job. That sentiment did not appear to be lost on Padgett.
“Gene was our best friend, you know. He was a great person,” Padgett somberly proclaimed. “I wish anything we could take it back. Gene was the type of person if you needed something, and he had it—the next morning he brought it to you. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
For this Standdown for Safety Day in Gene’s honor, Lisa donated twenty $25 gift cards to Walmart for employees. Everyone who operates a vehicle for the county had their name put in a hat, and the Judge’s office drew names to receive the gift along with a card from Lisa.
Sadly, you can’t bring someone back from a terrible tragedy such as this. The best you can do is honor them, never forget and make sure procedures are put in place to prevent it from ever happening again. On Monday, it appeared that all three were checked off. Gene was surely smiling down.