By Chad Hobbs
Several months ago, Ron Hayes, co-founder of the F.I.G.H.T. foundation, wrote on op-ed comparing Gene Hobbs’ case to that of an almost identical case that happened just up the road from Meade County, in Louisville, a few Christmases ago. The only difference was the outcomes of the two events.
Gene Hobbs, a road department worker, was backed over and killed by a coworker driving a dump truck. Dump trucks require Commercial Driver’s License through the DOT, which has no tolerance for alcohol or other substances such as opioids and painkillers. The driver was using both opioids and pain killers at the time of the accident, but DOT said they had no jurisdiction over city/county governments or municipalities. OSHA found no violations either, despite Lisa Hobbs, Ron Hayes, and the eyewitness making many statements contrary to the OSHA report in previous articles in this series.
In fact, internal emails Lisa was able to obtain from OSHA show conversations between investigator Anthony Morley and his supervisor Jermaine Greene that the family says were appalling to read and show how little regard they had for accurately investigating the death of their father/husband/brother. Just over a week after Gene’s death Greene said in an email to Morley, “Sounds redundant, but these family members have been getting tricky, lately.”
In another email, Greene emailed his superior, Mark Bizzell, and said, “Pretty straight forward; guy walks behind an apparently completely compliant dump truck, back up alarms working, no need for spotter in this scenario, guy just should have zigged when he should have zagged.”
Apparently for Mr. Greene, family members trying to get answers to why their loved one did not come home from work is them “getting tricky.” Imagine losing your loved one to a tragedy at his job, one where an eyewitness gives a sworn statement that the loved one was raking gravel in one spot with his back to a dump truck that was in a hurry with no back up alarm and backed over him before he ever saw it coming. Now imagine reading a statement by a government employee who is paid to protect workers on their jobs saying the exact opposite; that Gene walked behind a truck, zigged when he should have zagged. According to Greene, Gene killed himself. As Lisa has pointed out many times in this story, losing her husband was the worst day of her life, but the way leaders from the local level all the way up to the state have handled this case is just unforgiveable.
Yet as Lisa and her family have struggled to get answers and justice for Gene, just an hour away a remarkably similar case played out with drastically different results. A Louisville metro police officer had a vehicle pulled over for a traffic stop when a Louisville MSD worker collided with the cruiser on the side of the road, killing the officer and injuring the people who had been pulled over. Like Gene’s case, the driver and the fatality were both government employees, both fatalities were caused by vehicles which required CDL’s to operate, both drivers were on the same type of DOT zero tolerance prescription pain killers. The only difference is the road worker’s family got no justice, the county received no violations, the driver faced no charges, keeping his job and the official statement from OSHA was the only person who was at fault was the man who lost his life. While in the almost identical case in Louisville, the government employee driving the truck was immediately arrested and charged with homicide of the police officer and attempted manslaughter of the individuals in the car that was pulled over because he was on prescription pain killers. He was immediately fired and is still behind bars in prison. It turned out the death of a law enforcement officer superseded city/county government and municipality immunity with the DOT.
As Ron Hayes pointed out, why should a person’s employment have any bearing on what a human’s life is worth. The justice system is supposed to be represented by a lady blindfolded as she holds the scale. When you get close to those big commercial vehicles on the highways of our county or anywhere else across the state and you see a government sticker on the door, you should beware. It’s not to say that government employees are bad, but as Ron, Lisa and many others across this state can attest to, our laws protect these employees to the point “that they can drive drunk or on drugs” because “they are above the law.”
If you see someone operating in a dangerous way, contact the Kentucky Labor Cabinet at 502-564-3070 or 1-800-321-6742 and the Commercial Vehicle Division at 502-782-8582. Contact your county and state officials, as well. Judge Gerry Lynn: 270-422-3967, firstname.lastname@example.org ; State Representative Nancy Tate: 502-564-8100 ext. 698, Nancy.Tate@lrc.ky.gov; Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron: 502-696-5300, ag.ky.gov; and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear: 502-564-2611, governor.ky.gov. As Ron Hayes said, the only way politicians pay attention and start making changes is when they get bombarded by their constituents.