By Chad Hobbs
When this series began at the end of last year, some questioned why a three-year-old case was being dug into. It basically boiled down to the fact that it had never been covered, and for Gene’s family, it was still a developing story due to the unusual and restricted release of information/documents requested by the family. As discussed in the last article, the Kentucky State Police report had eluded the family’s request for several years and had not been finally released until late last year, just months prior to this series beginning.
For Lisa, that was when she first found out the driver had opioids and muscle relaxers in his system at the time of her husband’s death. The employee files at the Meade County Courthouse still state that the post-accident drug test was negative for alcohol or drugs. In fact, the only place with documentation of the driver failing that drug test was in the withheld state trooper report.
Prior to finally getting the state trooper report, both Lisa and Ron Hayes had been trying to get the Department of Transportation (DOT) report from that day as well.
Officer Tyler Lynch with Commercial Vehicle Enforcement was at the scene. In fact, he was the officer who escorted Gene Smallwood, the truck driver who backed over Hobbs, to obtain a drug test after the accident. When Lisa and other members of her family contacted DOT to obtain the report, they were told there was no report and that they were not there..
A lawyer for DOT eventually called wanting to know why they kept calling and harassing DOT. He also said there was no report. Ron knew better. He had already contacted the National Highway Safety Administration, which KY DOT is required to submit all reports to. When he spoke with the Washington D.C. based office, they told Hayes, “we have it right here, and we got it from KY DOT.”
Ron eventually got Captain Tisdale with KY DOT on the phone and was told once again that there was no record of the incident. Ron explained that when Trooper Brooks had met with the family after Gene’s death, he had told them that DOT was at the scene. Ron says Tisdale was very friendly with him and asked him to hold on. He could hear Tisdale typing. All the sudden Tisdale said, “oh my God” and told Ron that he needed to talk to Brooks. Ron says Tisdale’s whole demeanor change, and he was ready to get off the phone. Hayes says he knew immediately that either Smallwood had a record of prior violations, or there were drugs in his system. He has seen too many of these cases, and he called Lisa to tell her.
So last year, Lisa finally got the documented proof of Ron’s suspicion in the form of the state trooper’s report which showed drugs in the driver’s system. The report also had another revelation that Lisa and Ron found very shocking. OSHA investigator Anthony Morley’s report had nothing to add about Smallwood that day because the driver said he could not remember anything. Trooper Brooks also states in his report that the day of the accident when he interviewed the driver, Smallwood “claimed he couldn’t remember what happened.”
The trooper report goes on to state, however, that Brooks went back and reinterviewed Smallwood almost two years later, on October 19, 2018. Smallwood’s story suddenly changed at that point. The man who could remember nothing in 2016 told Brooks that “he recalled he was in the truck, and they were just resuming work from lunch. Hobbs tapped his rake on the window of the truck and asked if he was ready, before walking away from the truck. At no time did Smallwood observe Hobbs immediately prior to the incident.”
The issue with this new explanation Smallwood provided two years later is twofold for both Lisa and Ron. First, how could a man who could not provide an inkling of detail in 2016 on anything that happened suddenly have such a clear recollection of details two years after the incident. Second, this new explanation contradicts what everyone else said that day. If you remember, the Road Department Supervisor told Morley that he saw nothing because he was down the road taking a lunch break, not returning from a lunch break. The eyewitness’s sworn statement also says that it appeared the other workers were standing on a hillside going to lunch break, not returning from lunch break. He also stated that Hobbs was raking gravel by himself when Smallwood’s truck pulled up in a hurry and instantly started backing up at a high rate of speed without getting out to see if anything was behind him. The witness stated it was his opinion that Smallwood saw his coworkers preparing to go to lunch on the hillside and was in a hurry to join them, when Ron spoke with him. This all stands in stark contrast to the story Smallwood told to Brooks for the first time almost two years after the fact.
In the next article, this series will explore what Lisa discovered after learning the man who backed over her husband had drugs in his system while driving a commercial vehicle, despite the DOT’s zero tolerance policy for such substances.