In Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch famously explains to Scout, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
This story may appear drawn out to some readers, but it pails in comparison to the slow, painful manner in which facts regarding the death and investigation of Gene Hobbs have been drawn out over three years for his wife, Lisa, and her family. Until a person takes the time to “climb in her skin and walk around,” it is easy to write her off as a grieving widow with an axe to grind. When a person takes the time to truly hear her story, however, one will find that isn’t the case at all, and the stacks of documents and notes she has collected over the past several years support every word she says.
“There for so long I couldn’t even talk about it, so I just held it all in for probably a year or so,” she somberly explains. “People need to know. I don’t want this to ever happen to anyone else.”
When the police and deputy coroner came to her house on Dec. 13, 2016, she says, “They really couldn’t tell me anything, other than there was an accident, and he was backed over by a dump truck.”
Lisa describes those first few days as, “complete confusion, lost, didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”
For the two months that passed until Occupational Safety and Health investigator Anthony Morley’s official report was released, she would painfully endure a lack of answers for why and how her husband had died, time and time again.
“It was so frustrating. I mean, no one has any idea how frustrating it is not to be able to have some kind of answers,” she recalled.
One thing that did get released immediately was the rumor that Gene had a heart attack which caused him to be backed over. Lisa’s brother called, notifying her that a member of the community was at the gas station telling people that was what happened to her husband.
She confronted the gentleman, wanting to know why he was spreading the rumor that a heart attack had caused Gene’s death. He divulged that is what Judge/Executive Gerry Lynn had told him. She inquired how the Judge could be saying that when the autopsy report still had not been released.
The man confessed, “Well he probably shouldn’t have said that. But that’s what the Judge is telling people.”
When the official autopsy was finally released, it reported no signs of Gene having a heart attack. This will not be the last time that report fully disputes the testimony of the County’s version of what happened that day.
Red flags had started popping up the day after Gene lost his life. A call had been made to the Meade County Courthouse requesting his personal effects. Lisa says that afternoon, Judge Lynn came to her house to drop off some of Gene’s belongings. She says he let the family know he was sorry for their loss. Lisa informed him that OSHA had been trying to get ahold of her, but he declared to her, “You don’t need to talk them.” Confused, she replied, “I don’t?”
Lisa says he didn’t really elaborate why; he just said she didn’t need to talk to them. Her sister, Elaine, who was there at the time, says what he said instantly red flagged with the family.
Then there was the lunch box the Judge had dropped off. Lisa says Gene would always eat half his chips at lunch and eat the other half during his afternoon break. His thermos full of tea was drank in the same manner: half at lunch and half at afternoon break. She says when she got it the day after he died, Gene’s thermos was empty and there was nothing in the box.
“It was empty, even the baggies were gone,” she remembered. “Who’s been in his lunch box? Somebody had to have been in there.”
His phone flagged the same questions. Lisa called Gene at least three times the day he lost his life, after being summoned back from Leitchfield that tragic day. Jeremy, Gene and Lisa’s son, says he called his dad the day before, but when they looked through his phone, those calls and messages had been deleted. In fact, the family says his phone had been deleted all the way back to the week prior.
The road crew came by after Gene’s funeral, and they were all standing by a tree outside her house. Jeremy asked, “I just want to know how it happened; what happened?” According to Lisa, they all said, “We don’t know anything. We didn’t see anything. We don’t know.”
The family had requested a meeting with Kentucky State Trooper Brandon Brooks who had worked the scene, and he came to see them on Dec. 23. She asked the trooper if they looked through his phone, and if so, did they look at the truck driver’s phone as well? Lisa explained that the trooper informed them that they had not looked through either her husband’s or the driver’s phones, which meant either the Judge or someone for the Judge had erased the calls from Gene’s phone.
While there, the trooper confessed to the family three times that the backup alarm on the truck did not work. He also advised them that they needed to get a lawyer, echoing what the coroner had already told the family when he had said something wasn’t right with this case. Brooks also informed them that it would be about six to eight months before they would get his report, but that would be an estimate that would be over two years off by the time Lisa would finally have it in her hands.
When OSH investigator Morley finally came to meet with the family on Jan 10, the family’s frustrations would continue. He explained that he could not talk about his ongoing investigation. They would have to wait until his report was finalized.
One of the few things he revealed, despite what Trooper Brooks had said, was that the truck did have a backup alarm and it worked. Morley left them more upset than they already were, but she says that wouldn’t be the last time he would let her and her family down.
“You keep waiting for all these reports to come out so maybe you could know,” Lisa explained. “We were hoping that OSH would have a report that would tell us something, but that’s when everything didn’t match up.”
The Occupational Safety and Health investigator’s report, which was detailed in the last article, clearly stated that he found no violations by the Meade County Road Department and that Hobbs walked behind a dump truck into its blind spot, after it had been cleared to back up and lost his life as a result.
Ron Hayes, the co-founder of Families In Grief Hold Together (FIGHT), has been advocating for years to improve workplace safety and help families who have lost loved ones due to work place fatalities, since losing his son, Patrick, in 1993 when he was killed on the job. He has an expansive knowledge when it comes to company and OSHA failures around this country pertaining to protecting and investigating workers’ injuries and fatalities.
As Ron asked the first time we spoke, “Who witnessed Gene Hobbs walk behind that dump truck and kill himself?” It was a blunt question for sure, but like he explains, that is what the official report clearly states.
That and much more will be explored in the next article in this ongoing series, ‘The false prophets of the gospel according to Morley’.