Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nature of Trucking Is Villain, Too

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nature of Trucking Is Villain, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK WOODS

His company wanted him to do more, to push harder.

Alvin Wilkerson, then a 31-year-old truck driver, didn't want to risk losing a route that allowed him to come home to Jacksonville, to his wife and children. So he didn't say that what he was being asked to do might be unreasonable, even dangerous. He promised to push harder.

"You're the man," his boss said in a text message.

One week later, after basically going 34 hours without sleep, he dozed off at the wheel of his semi on Florida 121. You know what happened. The whole country knows what happened. He slammed into a Pontiac Bonneville that was stopped behind a school bus, killing seven children.

Now, 2 1/2 years later, the truck driver is headed to prison and the remaining question is this: Will the truck company, Nebraska-based Crete Carrier Corp., also pay a price?

"They knew what I was doing," Wilkerson told prosecutors before pleading guilty to seven counts of vehicular manslaughter. "They didn't send me anything saying, 'Hey, this is wrong.' "

Some will write this off as a guilty man pointing fingers. And I'm not saying that Wilkerson shouldn't face punishment. But when I read that quote in the Times-Union last weekend, and then the transcript of the three-hour sworn interview, it brought back memories of some other interviews: phone conversations I had in the weeks after the crash with someone who worked for Crete.

I'm not going to use her name or give any details about her position with the company. As she told me during the first call, "I'll lose [my job] if they find out I talked to you."

When she initially called, it still seemed unclear why Wilkerson hadn't stopped. Was he on his cell phone? Drunk? Asleep? While the rest of us had questions, this woman said she and her co-workers knew the answer. And not because anyone had told them.

"We don't really have any questions about why he ran into the car," she said. "It was fatigue."

She said many of the things that Wilkerson would echo in his testimony last month. She said drivers would do "whatever it takes" to get the job done and keep a contract. She told a story of one trucker driving 20 hours and covering an incredible distance. …

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