(KTVI)-- In November of last year, Illinois state trooper Kyle Deatherage had pulled a motorist over for a routine traffic stop. Suddenly a semi hit Deatherage. He died at the scene. Now his family says they are coping as charges come against the man accused of hitting Deatherage. The family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and the company he was working for... DOT Foods.
Kyle's brother Kenny Deatherage remembers getting the call that his brother had been killed. He immediately rushed to his sister in law's home to be with Kyle's family. Police say the driver of the DOT Foods truck didn't change lanes when he saw Deatherage's emergency lights on the side of the road... nor did he even slow down. Authorities say the truck's driver, Johnny Felton Jr. of Hinesville, Georgia, has a medical condition that causes him to lose consciousness. He was only licensed to drive in the state of Georgia yet he hit Deatherage on Interstate 55 near Litchfield. Deatherage's family contends Felton should never have been behind the wheel.
Shortly after the crash, The US Transportation department declared Felton an imminent hazard, barring him from commercial driving. Dot removed Felton from the road immediately after the crash and have said that their driver had to be in full compliance with federal transportation restrictions. The driver had to have a valid medical card issued by a certified and approved doctor and they argue Felton had done that.
Response from Dot Transportation, Inc.:
1. Why was Felton driving one of your trucks in Illinois the day trooper Deatherage was killed when he didn't have a license to drive outside of Georgia?
Mr. Felton had been driving for Dot Transportation, Inc. ('DTI') for five years on a valid interstate commercial driver`s license - he would not have been hired by DTI had he not had one.
Last year, Mr. Felton`s valid interstate CDL was scheduled to expire on December 10, 2012. Had he done nothing, he would have had a valid interstate CDL at the time of the accident, November 26, 2012. However, DTI encourages its drivers to not wait until the last minute to renew CDLs. For this reason, Mr. Felton renewed his CDL on July 26, 2012. The process is the same for applying for an interstate or an intrastate license.
Due to the pending criminal indictment against Felton, we have not been allowed to interview Mr. Felton on this issue. However, we believe that when he renewed he got confused as to the difference between interstate and intrastate and for this reason, erroneously checked the intrastate box, instead of the correct interstate box. Intrastate means that you can only drive within the State issuing the license. Interstate means that you can drive between states. We have recently obtained a copy of Mr. Felton`s CDL renewal application, which is attached. As you can see, Mr. Felton initially checked the correct box. He then changed his mind and checked the wrong box. The Georgia Motor Vehicle Department advises that this form is a self-certification which the Department has nothing to do with. Which box to check is entirely up the driver.
We believe Mr. Felton checked the intrastate box in error because, in spite of all the investigation that has taken place in this case over the past 6 months, no one has come up with any reason why Mr. Felton or the State of Georgia would have changed his status from interstate to intrastate. To the contrary, there was a very good reason for him not to change that status. Had DTI known about this change, Mr. Felton would have been immediately removed from his DTI job as an interstate driver.
After the July 2012 renewal, Mr. Felton gave DTI a copy of the front of his new license. That copy includes the words 'Restrictions K'. In Georgia, this means Mr. Felton`s license was limited to commercial intrastate driving. Unfortunately, the DTI clerk responsible for such records did not note or understand the significance of the K Restriction. It`s not something we would normally look for on a driver`s license as we do not hire intrastate drivers.
It must also be noted that safety regulations are basically the same whether one has an interstate CDL or an intrastate CDL. DTI knows of no significant difference between the Georgia safety regulations and the safety regulations applicable to an interstate CDL driver. Based on its knowledge to date, DTI believes that had Mr. Felton simply checked the correct interstate box, the State of Georgia would have renewed his CDL interstate license without changing it to an intrastate license.
2. Was the company aware that he had a medical condition that causes him to black out?
No, the company has had no indication at the time of the accident or since then that this driver was ill or suffered from any medical condition which would have disqualified him from driving a commercial vehicle. All long haul truck drivers are required to carry a valid medical card issued by a Department of Transportation-certified physician. Mr. Felton has a valid medical card, dated August 8, 2011 and current through August 8, 2013.
We`d like to note that the criminal indictment does not allege that Mr. Felton was medically unfit to drive, nor did it charge him with any crime relative to his medical condition.
3. Based on the fact that Felton had a physical from an approved doctor, do you still trust the information your drivers are giving you on their medical conditions... Or is there more you can do to make sure they are safe behind the wheels of your trucks?
First, we would note again that the criminal indictment does not allege that Mr. Felton was medically unfit to drive. That being said, the U.S. Department of Transportation issues medical cards to commercial drivers. We trust that the federal government is doing everything it can to only issue medical cards to drivers that are medically fit.
4. Please respond to attorney Keefe's allegation that Dot put Felton on the road because you we're in a hurry to get drivers on the road, that you are a company that is not playing by the rules and put corporate profit before safety.
When DTI hired Mr. Felton, he had a valid U.S. D.O.T. medical card and a valid interstate CDL license. Prior to working for DTI, Mr. Felton served 25 years as a leader in the U.S. Army. During his military service, Felton received many awards including a bronze star and commanded 80 troops. He received an honorable discharge. The company had no indication that he was anything but fit for driving duty.
Because of its success, DTI hires OTR drivers on a regular basis. DTI has some of the highest hiring standards in the trucking industry, and turns away many job applicants for various reasons. Every applicant for a DTI driver job is carefully screened. Only drivers who are in compliance with applicable law and regulations are hired by DTI.
All trucking companies are rated by the federal government through the Department of Transportation. The rating is called a CSA score. The score is calculated in seven categories from driver fitness to accidents. The less violations the company has the better the score. A perfect score is 0. The worse score is 100. If you have a zero then you are the best among all the trucking companies in that category. DTI is particularly proud of its safety rating with respect to accidents, which is in the top 16% of all carriers in its category.
5. Please respond to Keefe`s allegation that you are responsible for the driver`s actions that led to the trooper`s death.
Mr. Felton is innocent until and unless proven guilty. We at DTI are standing behind our employee, and we believe the public will agree when they hear the facts at trial that Trooper Deatherage`s death was due to a tragic accident, not a criminal act. We at DTI are deeply saddened by the death of Trooper Deatherage.
6. What do you have to say to the trooper`s family?
Our condolences, hearts and prayers go out to his widow and children.
7. How did you respond once you learned of the accident?
From the moment we heard of the accident, DTI has fully cooperated with the Illinois State Police in their investigation.
8. How do you make sure this type of tragedy doesn't happen again?
DTI constantly works to be one of the safest trucking companies in the United States through good driver hiring and training and providing our drivers with safe and well-maintained trucks and trailers. We are very proud of our safety rating with respect to accidents, which is in the top 16% of all carriers in its category, but strive to do even better. In 2011, our Georgia location, where Mr. Felton works, received the fleet safety award from the National Private Truck Council for accident reductions. The Georgia location also received an award in 2011 from the Georgia Motor Trucking Association for outstanding achievement in public safety.