Chicago, IL — On Friday, January 22, 2016 Andrew Bokelman, 25 plead guilty in a Cook County court to to three charges — all felonies — of operating a commercial vehicle while impaired or fatigued, filing a false log to conceal hours worked, and working longer than a 14-hour period allowed by law.
Shortly after 11:00 PM, on Thursday, March 28, 2013 Bokelman was traveling on on I-294, south of Willow Road near Northbrook, IL, when his tractor-trailer drifted to the left and then the left shoulder of the south-bound lanes.
Illinois State Trooper James Sauter was parked on the left shoulder and was rear-ended by Bokelman’s rig, and pushed over 500 feet, resulting in a fire. Although Bokelman attempted to help trooper Sauter, he was not able to because of the flames. A witness reported Bokelman had never touched his brakes prior to impact.
Bokelman received his commercial driver’s license (CDL) about six months before the crash.
Bokelman was driving from Waukesha, Wis., to Louisville, Ky and had driven about two hours prior to the crash. Alcohol and drugs were not a factor in this crash.
Officer Sauter was known as a “road dog,” who enjoyed highway patrol work and helping people. Although an Illinois State Police pilot, he requested to get back on the road.
Bokelman was not charged with reckless homicide charges, because in Illinois there is no precedent for doing so in cases when a driver falls asleep at the wheel. Bokelman started his work shift at 6 AM that morning and had worked 18 hours straight. His intentions were to not drive much further before the crash. A reckless homicide conviction in Illinois carries a sentence of between two to five years in prison.
On January 27, 2014 another Illinois trooper — Douglas Balder — was seriously injured and a toll worker killed when they were struck by Renato Velasquez’s tractor-trailer when Velasquez reportedly fell asleep. Velasquez had been driving over 28 hours on 3 1/2 hours of sleep.
Bokelman was sentenced to two years in prison but will be released in about a year due to time already served. The insurance company for Bokelman’s employer paid a $10 Million settlement to trooper Sauter’s wife.
There were some people not satisfied with Bokelman’s two-year sentence. They say it sends the wrong message, that it cheapens the lives of law enforcement.
Lessons Learned — Indoctrinate your drivers.
Running until you are dog-tired and nodding off at the wheel is simply knuckle-headed stuff. Stuff — that should never happen. But it keeps happening — again and again and again.
Start with the cold truth: Log violations and falsification are felonious. You can’t do worse than that.
Train drivers to protect themselves. The best protection is found in following the rules. The only driver protection is in following the rules. As I like to tell drivers — the insurance is on the truck.
Sure — bad things can happen to good people. Even good people following the rules. But by following the rules, a driver has what is known as a defense. The rules are there to protect everyone including the driver.
Somehow that message is not getting out there.
Something is wrong— very wrong when drivers are running 18 to 28 hour shifts at a stretch. It’s not productive. It’s not healthy. In fact, very quickly, it can and does turn counter-productive.
Back in the day, it was common practice to park and take a short nap if a driver felt it was needed. This was an unwritten rule in driving— when you reached your limit, stop, rest, and recharge before continuing.
It Gets Worse
The Illinois officer killed on the road before trooper Sauter, trooper Kyle Deatherage, was killed by a tractor-trailer driver who suffered from a medical condition that caused a loss of consciousness. The driver was allegedly in a state of unconsciousness when he struck and killed trooper Deatherage who was conducting a routine traffic stop on the roadside.
Another truck driver who should not have been on the road. Another unnecessary fatal collision. Trooper Kyle Deatherage won’t be there for his wife and kids . . .
Train and indoctrinate your drivers to protect themselves by knowing the rules, following the rules and documenting what they do.
Thank you for reading this.