Updated: Feb 27, 2020
As February comes to a close, spring is squarely on many people’s minds. Farm shops all across Meade County are a buzz, as farmers scramble to get everything ready for the quickly approaching planting season. Such is the case for Jeremy Hobbs, Gene and Lisa’s son, though the last several years have brought a new kink to this already stressful time of the year; the unexpected loss of his father, partner, and one of his best friends.
“They depended on each other to do everything: make decisions, buying stuff, he was actually the best man in Jeremy’s wedding,” Lisa explains of the relationship between her husband and son. “They were really, really close. Really close!”
The shop is the hub for every farm. It is where equipment is prepared, worked on and where not only the season begins but ends as well. Things were no different for Jeremy and Gene.
“Gene was always a person who could fix anything,” Lisa says. “After he passed, that was really hard to go out in that garage and work, when you’re used to everyday (him being out there). Gene spent a lot of time out there.”
With his abrupt and unexpected death, the family not only had to deal with the pain of losing a loved one, but for Jeremy, he also had to find a way forward with the family farm without his dad, partner, and just as importantly, the main planner of the two.
Lisa says she helps the best she can, whether it’s running to get parts or going to look at a sprayer which she knows little about because he wants her to go with him. Having a second opinion can be invaluable; one which Jeremy lost on that terrible day when his dad was taken from this world.
“I guess I’m going to kind of fill in those shoes, but I can’t fill Gene’s shoes,” Lisa said. “It’s a whole new world that none of us wanted ...It’s not a club you want to be in.”
It is a club that has had no shortage of painful reminders for this family. Whether it’s the shop Lisa speaks, a piece of equipment Jeremy and his dad bought, or one of so many other possibilities, reminders of Gene seem to be everywhere. They say one of the most painful things of all has been the way the whole incident was handled.
Lisa points to the backup alarm on the dump truck, which crushed Gene to death, as proof. She says not only did State Trooper Brooks tell them three times the alarm didn’t work. Jeremy, Ron Hayes, and eventually a federal OSHA investigator have all spoke with the eyewitness who says he was only 20 feet from the truck when the accident first occurred and running towards the truck as it finally came to a stop, and he told them all there was nothing wrong with his hearing, there was nothing running at the time other than the dump truck, and there was never a backup alarm sounding. In fact, he says if the backup alarm had been working or a flagger had been present, Gene would still be alive today. A county worker has since confessed the alarm didn’t work that day as well. Yet the official OSH report that Investigator Morley released, after talking with the Judge/Executive, states multiple times that the alarm was working that day, despite the fact that everyone directly involved other than Morley and Meade County Judge/Executive’s office says it did not.
Lisa says she began getting calls after Gene’s accident from family and friends that said they had seen the truck involved around the county backing up with no alarm sounding. Then, on June 14, 2018, Meade County dump truck #225 rolled into her driveway a year and a half after it had taken Gene’s life. Lisa’s driveway is an old county road, and the road department had come to do some work on it. Jeremy was in the field cutting hay. He called his mom and asked her to listen to see if the backup alarm was working. As video Lisa recorded from her porch just feet away from truck #225 clearly shows, it backed past her house, and the alarm still hadn’t been fixed, almost a year after it had played a pivotal role in costing her husband his life. For Jeremy and Lisa, it was another case of insult being added to injury, as the truck, driver, and county, which they say had learned so little from their failures, were still putting Road Department workers in the same dangerous environment that had cost Gene his life.
Lisa says she was told the reason the witness and her video both failed to hear the alarm was because they were in front of the vehicle and you can only hear it from behind. When she refused to accept that, she says the story then changed to it worked, but it just wasn’t loud enough to be heard over other noises. The eye witness gave a sworn testimony that there were no other noises the day Gene died due to the fact that everyone appeared to be going to lunch. Lisa also points out in her video that you can hear the gravel popping under the trucks tires, but there is not the faintest hint of a backup alarm sounding.
Ron Hayes says that a backup alarm must be at least 90 decibels, which is a level loud enough that a backing vehicle can be heard, regardless of where you are standing, at great distances outside of the actual danger zone of a backing vehicle.
It would take a federal investigator and a damning CASPA report to finally force the county to replace the broken alarm, almost two years after it was implicated in the death of a worker, finally in August 2018, as is evident through the maintenance logs for the dump truck. Lisa says they had made numerous attempts to get it replaced for the safety of those still working for the county, but until the federal investigator came to Meade County in 2018, it fell on deaf ears.
The next article in this series will take a look at what the autopsy and the federal CASPA investigation had to say about the county’s story and Morley’s report.
Chad Hobbs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org