Ron Hayes has made his life’s work helping families deal with the OSHA mishandling of cases involving their loved ones, since loosing his son, Patrick, who was killed after a column of grain collapsed on him while working in a grain bin at his job in 1993. Over the years, Hayes has came to learn and understand a lot of things about the agency. He has worked side by side with them when they have allowed, trying to improve the system in regards to how they handle fatalities and the families of the victims. When it comes to state level OSHA, he will quickly tell you it’s a mixed bag. In his eyes, states like Tennessee have done a great job of making sure their program is equal or better than the federal program, which is required in order for a state to run its own program. According to Hayes, Kentucky, however, and its version, OSH, has consistently fell short when it comes to meeting the federal status quo. OSH investigators have been notorious for taking the side of companies in work-related injuries and fatalities, botching investigations and sometimes even breaking the law, and Hayes has no shortage of case files to support his conclusion.
The problem, he says, is that once an OSH investigator issues their final report and conclusion, it becomes the gospel. When Morley issued his findings that Meade County was in no way at fault, and after returning from lunch, Gene Hobbs had walked behind the moving truck with its back up alarm sounding after it was cleared to back up for loading, it became written in stone that he was the only person at fault. As Hayes points out, dead men have no rights in a case like this once KYOSH issues its verdict.
Many facts are cut and dry in this case. they just don’t line up with Morley’s gospel. As you read through the report along with the reports that were generated by other agencies involving this case, Ron’s question of, “Who witnessed Gene Hobbs walk behind that truck and kill himself?”, fails to be answered in any way that supports the investigator.
Morley states the basis for his finding are the opening conference, a round of employee and management interviews and Coroner and KSP interviews. As such, this means that what Road Department Assistant Supervisor Roger Fackler, dumptruck driver Gene Smallwood, workers Dennis Poole, Joseph Padgett, Shane Staples and Jeffery Gogol, Judge/Executive Gerry Lynn, Coroner James Chism and Trooper Brandon Brooks all stated in interviews provides the proof for his conclusion, according to Morley. Hayes is quick to point out, however, that is just not true when you look at the documentation of what all those men said.
Morley states Fackler is the first person he talks to upon arriving on the scene and that, “Supervisor Fackler stated that he was on the site at the time, but father up the road, eating lunch in his truck.” That rules Fackler out as a witness even though the official story says they had just came back from lunch.
The interview with the workers didn’t happen that day because Judge Lynn had sent them home before Investigator Morley arrived. He says when he interviewed the other workers two days later they could not provide any pertinent information other than Mr. Hobbs wore a hearing aid and that the “red pickup driver said he saw the accident.” The workers told Morley they saw nothing just like they would tell Jeremy and Lisa after the funeral. This rules the workers out as witnesses as well.
Trooper Brooks states in his report that driver Gene Smallwood “claimed he could not remember what happened.” He also reports that Smallwood “claimed he did not see the pedestrian.” So Smallwood is ruled out as a witness also by his own statements even though his story would change slightly ten months later when Brooks reinterviewed him to match the quickly evolving story the county would develop to explain what happened that day.
The Coroner interview notes state that the cause of death was head trauma and that a copy of the Coroner’s report and autopsy were requested. The Coroner obviously didn’t offer Morley any witness information since he arrived after the fact and is therefore ruled out. Lisa says he did tell her something didn’t seem right and that the Judge had set in the dump truck with Smallwood for most of the afternoon while they waited for Morley to arrive.
The Judge was interviewed a couple times by Morley. He doesn’t state what was said. It is safe to rule him out as a witness, though, since he wasn’t on the scene until after the fatality took place.
Trooper Brooks is the final person left that is mentioned who could have provided the facts behind Morley’s conclusion, but his interview fails to provide anything to support Morley’s claims. Brooks lets him know that there was an eyewitness, just as one of the workers did, but Morley’s report claims the eyewitness provided “no additional information not previously know to the inspector.” He also states the backup alarm did not work but Morley disputes this fact as well even though he was the last person to arrive to the scene that day.
Everyone present at the time the fatality occurred claimed originally that they saw nothing. Morley writes off the eyewitness as being able to provide anything of value to the investigation. Yet despite all of this, Morley’s gospel states “the vehicle had a back up alarm, and when the vehicle was initially signaled to back up, Mr. Hobbs, the deceased was not behind the vehicle. He walked behind it and into the blind spot only after it had already started backing up.” Months after Gene’s death this became the story, but who heard the back up alarm? Who signaled the truck to back up? Who watched Gene Hobbs walk behind the moving truck?
The day of the accident no one knew anything on the county side, but their story would change as the days past. Before that is evaluated, first the story must turn back to that eye witness which Morley wrote off so easily as being irrelevant.
He was the only person to see what happened that day, his story is the only one which has never changed and what he saw that day still keeps him up at night. Yet Morley never asked him the first question despite claiming the contrary. Why would such a valuable witness be pushed from the pages of the report? Stay tuned for The Gene Hobbs Tragedy: Gag the whiteness so silent alarms can sing.