by Pride Transport | Mar 20, 2019
He Was Never Supposed to Be There
Jason Rivenburg who, by all accounts, was “a really nice guy” was proving that fact when he agreed to help a friend who owned a small firm that was a driver down. Jason had been driving for 14 years and, because he was a nice guy, he picked up a load to help a friend in need.
Jason had three stops on this journey, the first in Virginia, the second in South Carolina, the third in North Carolina and then home sweet home where his son Josh and his wife Hope, pregnant with twins, waited for his return.
Jason was ahead of schedule when he drove toward his second destination, a Food Lion, in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Now, you would think being ahead of schedule is a good thing, get it done, get on the road, get back home. This isn’t the case for truck drivers. Like most receivers, the Food Lion didn’t allow trucks in their lot until an hour before delivery time. Jason had to find a place to park for the night.
Safe, Secure and Available
When you’re a truck driver those are the qualities you’re looking for when you need to stop for the night. Drivers are required to take 10 hours away from driving on their journey and with the implementation of ELD, Electronic Logging Device, it makes it impossible for a driver to skip their mandatory off time.
The problem for many, like Jason, is there isn’t enough safe, secure parking available near their drop. The American Transportation Research Institute released the findings of its truck parking study in December of 2016 that revealed drivers can average up to 56 minutes per day looking for parking. This means that drivers lose an average of $4,600 per year due to the lack of parking availability.
Most drivers park on the shoulder, the ramps into or out of rest areas or, like Jason, they park somewhere that another driver told them about that was safe. A place where no cops would wake you in the middle of the night and send you groggy and disoriented down the highway.
On the advice of another driver, Jason pulled into an abandoned gas station a short way down the highway from the Food Lion. He would sleep for the night, get up early make his delivery, head to North Carolina and then, thankfully, home.
He Made A Career Out of This
At a convenience store across the highway from the abandoned gas station where Jason parked for the night, 22-year-old Willie Pelzer was hanging out looking for his next score. Pelzer, a career felon, was on probation at the time for a grand larceny conviction. Pelzer watched as Jason pulled into the abandoned gas station, parked, turned on his cabin lights and got settled for the night.
Pelzer watched for a bit and then decided this would be his next mark. He crossed the highway and carefully slipped under Jason’s trailer and waited for him to go to sleep.
It’s a Problem for Us All
You may not be a truck driver but driver fatigue is a factor that affects everyone who is in a vehicle on the road today.
A commercial truck, like the one Jason was driving, can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. They are hard to maneuver and very difficult to stop when traveling at full speed down a highway or interstate freeway. When a driver has not had sufficient sleep due to spending time finding a place to park, being woken up at night, feeling uneasy about where he is parked, he becomes a fatigued driver.
Because of the lack of ability to react, fatigued drivers are likely to have difficulty making quick life-saving decisions. The National Transportation Safety Board has stated that truck driver fatigue may be a contributing factor in 30-40% of commercial truck accidents. This affects everyone who shares the road with trucks. Since there are 49 million tons of goods valued at more than $53 billion shipped daily about the country and trucks carry 63% of the tonnage and 68% of the value, if you’re on a road, you’re sharing it with a truck.
For the Price of a Sandwich at a Convenience Store
Willie Pelzer sensed it was time. He slipped out from under Jason’s trailer, pulled his .45-caliber handgun from his waistband and crept towards the cab. It was 10:30 in the evening, March 5th when Willie entered Jason’s cab and found him cleaning his dashboard. Willie shot Jason twice in the head then rifled through his front pocket, grabbed the cash that was there and slipped away from the truck into the night leaving Jason’s body alone only to be found two days later by a passing motorist.
Pelzer then called two friends, told them what he had done and they set about helping him get rid of the murder weapon. When all was said and done, Pelzer took the life of Jason Rivenburg, a 35-year old truck driver, husband and father for the grand total of $7.00, the change Jason had received from his dinner bill. Pelzer had murdered Jason for the price of a sandwich he could have bought at the convenience store where he first got the idea for the robbery.
13 days after Jason was killed his wife, Hope, gave birth to twins Logan and Hezekiah.
Jason’s Legacy and law
From the senseless death of Jason Rivenburg, his wife, Hope, found purpose. She lobbied tirelessly for safer parking conditions for commercial truckers. On April 28, 2009, Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) along with the support of Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MT) introduced Jason’s Law. Congress, however, never got the chance to vote on it.
On May 5th, 2009 Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand also introduced Jason’s Law as S 1187 to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. The bill was widely supported, however, funds were not available so the bill never reached the floor. During all of this, Hope Rivenburg, Jason’s wife, never gave up.
Three years and more failed attempts later Jason’s Law was finally passed. In a joint press release Tonko, Gillibrand and Schumer said:
“Truck drivers work tirelessly every day to keep New York’s businesses running. At the very least, they deserve to be safe while doing so, Jason’s Law enables states to improve parking for truck drivers so that when these hard-working individuals stop to rest, they are safer and better protected. Jason Rivenburg was killed in a senseless act of violence. This legislation honors Jason’s memory and will help prevent this type of horrific tragedy from happening again.”
As included in the Senate reauthorization bill, Jason’s Law authorizes funding to be spent on truck parking facilities and identifies that it is a national priority to address the shortage of long-term parking for commercial motor vehicles and the safety of drivers.
Willie Pelzer, Jason’s killer, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Truck Drivers are Important
Through Jason’s tragedy and Hope’s dogged determination, this law that affects more people than just truck drivers was passed. But is that enough?
In a survey put out by the Federal Highway Administration in 2015, it was discovered that there were still serious shortages in parking at public rest areas, private truck stops, designated pull-outs or vistas, commercial areas and at highway weigh stations. There is also an increase in paid parking spaces appearing at truck stops where truck drivers can reserve a space for overnight rest.
The situation needs diligent attention and lawmakers will need to be continually reminded of the importance of this law. Truck driving men and women are the economic backbone of this country and keeping them safe should be a priority.