The Gene Hobbs Tragedy: Wife recognized for sticking her neck out

By Chad Hobbs

 The Giraffe Heroes Project is a global nonprofit organization that encourages today’s heroes and strives to train tomorrow’s by sticking their neck out to make a difference, hence the choice of a giraffe as their symbol. The organization honors Giraffe Heroes biannually whom they view as “compassionate risk-takers who are largely unknown people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the U.S. and around the world.”

 “When we tell their stories over social and traditional media, others are moved to stick their necks out too, helping solve significant public problems important to them,” stated the organization. “As long as there are Giraffe Heroes, there’s hope. Telling the stories of heroes may be the oldest strategy in the world for motivating people into brave, compassionate action — and it works.”

The newest class of Giraffe Heroes were named this month and among the 11 inductees was Meade County resident, Lisa Hobbs. The organization wrote this about why she was honored:

“Lisa Hobbs was widowed by a Kentucky public works truck that backed up—silently—over her husband, Gene, who was working the ground crew behind the truck. An eyewitness said that no one heard a backup signal, the familiar beeping noise trucks make all over the US when they go into reverse. A state trooper on the scene confirmed that lack of a warning.

But when a Kentucky inspector for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “investigated.” He didn’t interview the eyewitness, didn’t test the truck’s backup beeper, and didn’t consider any possible safety violations at the worksite. An administrator at the agency said that the truck’s beeper was working and that Gene Hobbs just “zigged when he should have zagged.”

Hobbs was determined to be sure no other family suffered such a devastating and needless loss. She channeled her grief into forcing the agency to do its job of protecting Kentucky’s working people saying, “You’d think that [KY OSHA] knows what they’re doing, but they don’t have a clue.”

Hobbs filed a formal complaint with the federal OSHA agency, reporting that the Kentucky OSHA office had totally mishandled the investigation into her husband’s death. She traveled throughout Kentucky, telling everyone she could—including newspapers and radio stations— that people were in danger.

Some Kentucky officials were not pleased. The County administrator pressured her to stop asking questions and filing complaints and requests for information. Hobbs ignored the pressure and went right on, prompting a federal audit that identified more shortcomings in Kentucky’s OSHA office than that of any other state. There were serious problems in almost all of KY OSHA’s 44 investigations of on-the-job deaths. And a federal inspector finally interviewed the eyewitness to Gene Hobbs’ death. The truth was on record.”

Ron Hayes, who founded F.I.G.H.T. (Families In Grief Holding Together) with his wife and has been featured in the Gene Hobbs Tragedy series several times for his work with Lisa, nominated her for the honor. Hayes was also honored with this award after his 19-year-old son, Patrick, was killed in a negligent workplace. He resigned from his job to pursue holding the company and OSHA accountable for their failures, lead workplace safety campaigns, and work with the federal government to change laws and to help families experiencing similar pain and hardships from work related deaths.

Hayes says he has worked with over 900 families at this point, but Lisa is the first person he has nominated for this honor. He was quick to point out that just because a person is nominated doesn't mean the person is honored. The Giraffe Heroes Project seriously vets nominees to see if they are truly heroes. That says a lot about Lisa's strength and desire to make a difference, doing all she can to make sure no one else has to experience the grief and pain of losing a loved one due to a neglegent workplace like her and her family did the day Gene didn't come home from work.

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