Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dedication to Family Was Truck Driver's Tragic Flaw

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dedication to Family Was Truck Driver's Tragic Flaw

Article excerpt

Byline: TONYAA WEATHERSBEE

When Alvin Wilkerson fell asleep at the wheel two years ago, he wasn't full of drugs or alcohol.

He was, however, full of that sense of personal responsibility that so many black men like him are criticized for not having.

That sense of responsibility, however, wasn't enough to overcome Wilkerson's fatigue. It was that fatigue that caused him to snooze at the wheel of the tractor-trailer he was driving in Union County in January 2006. His vehicle rolled over a Pontiac Bonneville loaded with seven children on their way home from visiting a relative, and caused it to crash into a school bus.

The car burst into flames. None of the children survived.

Last month, the judge in the case, Maurice Giunta, sentenced Wilkerson to seven years in prison.

I guess that works if one accepts justice as something that ought to be reduced to matters of symmetry and symbolism. But if one believes that fairness ought to be part of the equation, this just isn't right.

And while I sympathize with the Union County families whose lives were shattered when their children, who ranged in age from 15 years to 20 months, were killed in that accident, there are other victims, too.

Wilkerson's children will only get to see their father in prison for the next seven years - all because he was exhausting himself working a trucking route that would have kept him closer to them.

A recent Times-Union story explained how Wilkerson, now 33, had been awake 34 hours before the crash happened.

As part of his plea agreement, he told prosecutors that he felt pressured to keep driving despite his exhaustion because he didn't want to lose that route - which, unlike a cross-country route, enabled him to be home with his wife and children more often.

He also told prosecutors that he was trying to help his employer, Nebraska-based Crete Carrier Corp., keep the route in Jacksonville.

But exhaustion caught up with Wilkerson. He pleaded no contest to seven counts of felony vehicular homicide and 10 counts of misdemeanor culpable negligence.

I know that Wilkerson's sentence was part of that plea agreement, and that he risked an even stiffer sentence - something like 85 years - under state sentencing guidelines. …

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