By Chad Hobbs
Every story must come to an end; else one begins to wonder if it even ever qualified to be told as a story to begin with. As this series, which started back on Dec. 19 of last year, still yet continues, it may be easy to ponder that very premise in regard to this story. However, to do so would be to make the very same mistake so many others, from investigators, to lawyers, down to just casual observers of this whole terrific event, have made over the course of the last three and half years, as injury and insult were added to the paralyzing grief that Gene’s family has been dealt. Lisa Hobbs never asked, nor dreamed, of becoming a widow almost four years ago. Nor did she know how to move forward after Dec. 13, 2016. As the initial shock began to give way to the search for “Why?”, questions began to be asked by Lisa and her family that could not be answered for various “reasons” as they tried to figure out exactly why a husband, father, grandfather, brother, and great friend never came home from work that day. No one ever became a widow, without trying to understand why and how their spouse had lost their life. While those first few months passed as OSHA investigator Anthony Morley wrapped up his investigation, more questions had been provided than answers. There had been those who worked the scene that said something did not seem right. Then there had been the Kentucky State Trooper who had stated multiple times that the alarm on the truck that killed Gene did not work. Much of that has already been covered with the exception of one report, the KSP Trooper’s report. By February of 2017, Morley was closing his investigation into the fatality which had occurred just a couple of months prior. It was in the months that followed the release of this report that Lisa began filing various open records requests and CASPA’s. She, along with many of her family and friends, felt there was more to the story than what was officially being told. The one file she could never obtain was KSP Trooper Brooks’ final report of what happened that day. Despite the case being closed from the OSHA side, she was denied the police report because the investigation was still open. Ron Hayes with Families in Grief Hold Together (FIGHT) requested the report again on August 30, 2017 but was denied for the same reason. Lisa’s sister, Elaine, would try again on November 1, 2018, but she too was denied and told the investigation was still open, almost two years after Gene’s death. Both Lisa and Hayes say they knew something was not right. The OSHA investigator took the lead on this investigation once he arrived as it was a workplace fatality. If Morley had wrapped up his report within a matter of months with no violations or citations, they were sure there was something amiss about KSP’s refusal to release their report still in late 2018. After then Commonwealth Attorney David Williams failed to do anything but provide frustrations for her, Lisa, with the help of Hayes and a few others, was finally able to get the state’s top prosecutor at the time, Attorney General Andy Beshear, to meet with her last May, during his campaign to become Governor. Beshear, along with Travis Mayo, Executive Director of the AG’s office, and LaTasha Buckner, Assistant Deputy of the AG’s office sat down for a brief meeting with her on May 9, 2019. After the meeting, Buckner said she was going to get the report released. On June 6, the case was officially closed, as they now claimed it was a clerical error which had prevented its release. The report was finally sent to the family on June 17, 2019, two and a half years after Gene had lost his life. In those pages, new bombshells were revealed that the family says they knew nothing about, reopening wounds that have never been able to fully heal. Lisa had requested employee files and records for Road Department employees from Meade County. Gene Smallwood, the driver of the truck which had backed over Lisa’s husband, is still working to this day, according to both Lisa and Ron, listed as being negative for both drugs and alcohol in the post-accident drug test performed hours after the fatality, and they have the documentation to prove it. The State Trooper’s report they finally received last summer told a much different story, however. Smallwood actually tested positive for a narcotic pain killer, oxycodone, and a muscle relaxer, cyclobenzaprine. Smallwood claimed he had a prescription for these medications and took them as prescribed, according to an interview that Trooper Brooks conducted with him almost two years after the accident. The Department of Transportation has a zero-tolerance policy for CDL drivers operating under the influence of such controlled substances, whether they are prescribed or not. Ron Hayes states that he has spoken with DOT officials, and they have all said that a CDL driver operating a vehicle involved in a fatality who tests positive for these substances is automatically looking at one to ten years in prison even if they are prescribed the medications. In fact, the DOT states that, “opioids, even when used under the care of physicians, are considered disqualifying by the DOT because of their ability to impair reaction times and focus, even with a valid prescription.” The Office of National Drug Control Policy adds, “Opioid use may cause dizziness, drowsiness and sedation which may impair the requisite psychomotor and cognitive skills necessary for safe driving. In addition, opioid use may impair concentration and attention, decrease alertness and increase reaction time.” They go on to cite that studies have shown that drivers under the influence of prescription opioids are associated with increased cognitive impairment and crash risks. For Lisa and her family, they say they could not believe, and were beyond outraged, to find out almost three years after losing Gene that not only was the driver on drugs, but that he was still driving for the county as well. That wasn’t the only twist the State Police report would provide for the family either. In the next installment, this series will take a look at everything else that report revealed. It will also take a closer look at what Lisa discovered last summer after learning for the first time that prescription narcotics were involved the day her husband lost his life.