On October 5th 2010, the front page of USA Today featured a story about potential serial killers dumping bodies along highways near rest areas and truck stops.
The article begins with the story of a severed head found of a teenage girl a few hundred yards from a truck stop in Barstow, California. Alarming? Your’e Darn Tootin!
The disturbing map included in this article showed how many bodies have been dumped in each state, a body count for each contiguous state including Alaska with the exception of North Dakota. ( USA Today Article Link: Along highways, signs of serial killings by Blake Morrison )
Familiar names were included in this article like Frank Silio who works for Covenant Transport (my employer), Lisa Mullings, President of the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) and Norita Taylor from OOIDA who I met when OOIDA inserted themselves in the Dan Rather Series based on my student truck driver training story.
The article was stunning, not only due to the topic but the evasive answers given by these three “spokespeople” for the trucking industry who could have acted more responsibly with their answers.
I contacted the writer of the article, Blake Morrison, to let him know that his article seemed to twist the dangers to be parking at rest areas yet safe trucker parking is a major issue as well as violent crimes against truckers and violence against women within the trucking industry.
I wanted Mr. Morrison to understand that drivers are experiencing increasing crime in specific areas and the lack of security and lack of accountability within the industry is part of the problem.
I particularly had a problem with the side bar to the article called “Avoid being a Victim” with tips from AAA but nothing about trucking industry specific challenges.
I posted the following comments to his article in various places and I emailed it to him directly, it has also been posted on the Facebook fan page called “Real Women Truckers”.
“ I am a female truck driver who has been blogging about violence against women within the trucking industry for almost three years. Frank Silio actually works at the same carrier as I do, but he could have pointed out that our fleet is forbidden to stop at some NATSO represented “Travel Plazas” as CEO Lisa Mulling refers to them. Our employer does this due to high crime and freight pilferage that occurs at these locations, but because Frank is an ATA “YES” man, he did not.
NATSO CEO Lisa Mullings tries to make it seem as if the “Travel Plazas”, as they have tried to rebrand the truck stops, are family friendly safe havens, but this is untrue. I find safer and quieter parking at welcome centers and rest areas, unfortunately, many of these rest areas are closing. NATSO has not cleaned up their “Travel Center” act which permits activity like truckers see at TA locations in Nashville, Barstow, Ontario, Jessup, Maryland, Gary, Indiana, West Memphis and Little Rock Arkansas, to name just a few.
A group called “Truckers Against Trafficking” aims to raise awareness of Human trafficking which exists at truck stop chains like the ones Lisa Mullings represents, yet they have NOT yet been embraced to display posters and other informational materials about potential signs of human trafficking or other violence against women literature.
“Jason’s Law” S971 & HR2156 a safe trucker parking bill lay in the environmental & public works committee ( Senate) and the transportation and infrastructure committee(house) ignored, and again it is NATSO who does not want the truckers parking elsewhere despite the fact that they do not want to clean up the crime or create enough suitable parking for commercial drivers.
Norita Taylor, media woman for OOIDA may have used her opportunity to note that trucker safety is as much an issue as safe parking to highlight the failure that is occurring within this industry. She should have noted that safe parking is an issue for truckers and travelers alike, yet, the article is permitted to imply that rest areas are less safe than travel plazas which I disagree whole heartedly.
The topic of violence against women is taboo in trucking. It is ignored by the ATA, NATSO, OOIDA, WIT so it is no wonder there is a less than serious proactive approach to a small population of alleged serial killers in this industry.
This in effect harms the majority of hardworking honest truck drivers who are out here doing their jobs. It is totally irresponsible of trucking leaders to ignore it.
A major problem is the denial, indifference and apathy within this industry, which protects a few predators and retaliates against the people who speak out. Violence occurs regularly to females entering truck driver training, domestic violence occurs regularly at truck stops and women are often thrown off of trucks at “travel plazas”.
There is no way to know who these women are and often law enforcement treats all women at or near truck stops as if they were expendable lot lizards. The entire industry is responsible for looking the other way at this issue.
I can go into a TA Travel Center and buy studded condoms and sani wipes to kill herpes in the ladies room but it is considered soliciting if I ask to leave information to help a woman in distress so she can get help to escape from a situation or if she is being held against her will.
The ladies bathroom and shower might be the only place these people have a chance to ask for help yet NATSO does not want the literature because it might scare off families!
I guess the studded condom machines are okay though.”
When I spoke to Mr. Morrison he told me he was trying to define what areas truckers see as high crime not to indict the entire industry but to offer help for travelers who are not as educated on the places WE truckers avoid due to high crime.
Well this is definitely something Frank Silio could have told him because our company sends us a message when they detect we are anywhere close to one of the “Off-Limits” travel plazas across the U.S.A..
In an effort to help Mr. Morrison I posed the question to drivers on three different Facebook pages ( Allen Smith of “Ask the Trucker” , Drivers Alike and Real Women Truckers” ) the response was overwhelming in a short period of time. The question was:
“What Truck Stops do you find to be high crime to be avoided? Please tell me name of chain, city and state. Thanks!”
Winner of the “Don’t Stop because even Truckers are scared of the Place” non scientific poll was hands down.
1. West Memphis, Arkansas Pilot & Petro
Frank Silio should have pointed out that we are not permitted to stop there and must plan our fuel accordingly to skip this location.
2. Ontario, California (West)
Travel Centers of America Notorious drug & prostitution trafficking activity
3. Atlanta, Georgia Petro, Pilot
*our company is not allowed within 25 miles of outer loop I-285 due to high crime in Atlanta Area
4. Dallas, Texas
Travel Centers of America, Pilot, Loves, Flying J
5. Jessup Maryland Travel Centers of America
6. New York everywhere considered unsafe
7. New Jersey everywhere considered unsafe
8. Indianapolis, Indiana Flying J
9. Barstow California Flying J & Travel Centers of America
10. Spartanburg, South Carolina Travel Centers of America
11. Carlisle, Pennsylvania Petro
12. Birmingham, Alabama Flying J & Pilot
13. Gary, Indiana ALL
Pilot, Flying J, Travel Centers of America, Steel City
14. East St. Louis Pilot, Gateway Truck Plaza
15. Salt Lake City, Utah Travel Centers of America (Tooele)
16. Stoney Ridge, Ohio (ALL)
Travel Centers of America, Pilot, Fuel Mart
17. Lake Station, Indiana
Travel Centers of America, Flying J, Road Runner
18. Knoxville, Tennessee Flying J
19. Nogales, Arizona Pilot
20. El Paso, Texas Petro
21. Brownsville, Texas Gordon’s
22. Hialeah Gardens, Miami ALL
23.Hunts Point, New York Zippy’s
24.Laredo, Texas Travel Centers of America & Gateway
25.Youngstown, Ohio Travel Centers of America & Pilot
26.Phoenix, Arizona Circle K
27. Nashville, Tennessee
Travel Centers of America & Pilot
28. Albuquerque , New Mexico Chevron
29. Amarillo, Texas Pilot
30. Fontana, California Three Sisters & all on Cherry Ave.
31. Memphis , Tennessee Pilot on Lamar
32. Olive Branch, Mississippi Loves, Pilot
33. Houston, Texas Key Truck Stop & Truckers Paradise
34. Little Rock, Arkansas Petro
Clearly a six year old can see some of the same name brand chains popping up. Here are some of the other remarks made by truck drivers “St. Robert, Missouri, safe for driver but not for loads.” , “Stolen fuel while I slept”, “Just about any Petro of TA (Travel Centers of America) is bad”, “Activity was not as bad as harassment from officials not letting you sleep”, “Never been stole from at rest areas”, “I no longer park in back row or walk between trailers after having someone hit me on the back of the head to rob me.”
Understand that truck drivers are not allowed to carry weapons. Some drivers mentioned carrying pepper spray and we have to give a “Woof Out” to Trucking Dogs who have warned off many potential attacks. My own little Truckin Dog Karma has kept me secure by warning someone off on several occasions. Still, many carriers have suspended pet policies due to increased idle laws. (Don’t even get me started on that one)
As an industry we can clean this mess up by communicating better. NATSO should educate their staff of signs of trafficking and provide them with wallet cards from “Truckers Against Trafficking”.
I have seen violence awareness information in the ladies rooms at Starbucks in rural Texas towns so there is no excuse not to provide it in “Travel Plazas”.
It was hard not to notice that the front page story of potential serial killers did not make the nightly news, which is a pretty powerful failure on behalf of the trucking industry who should accept responsibility for the climate they have created. Decades of neglect and trying to vilify hard working truckers in order to conceal how they manage their workforce. It is not a reflection on the drivers; it is a reflection on the executives who have not displayed the courage to take responsibility for the environment they have created for the drivers and the motoring public.
This is a chance for us all to move forward by being more cooperative to address the parking situation, the crime and climate in this industry that women are disposable.
If you have not yet watched the video trailer from “Truckers against Trafficking” about how Truckers are actually HEROES for reporting crime at truck stops I have included the link.
I have said before, I believe the crime at certain locations is a failure by individual management structures. If a low paid staff if being offered a couple hundred dollars to look the other way you will have this sort of activity.
These are human beings, they may be runaways, they may be kidnapped teens who have been trafficked and sold. As truck drivers, we see things that would keep the executives up all night shaking in their flannel pajamas.
The climate in trucking is to keep your mouth shut, this a prison inmate mentality, this is a street gang mentality. If you see someone killed or hurt keep your mouth shut or you are next. That is “Street Smarts”, is that what the message is of the ATA?
NATSO can change that entire message, please listen to the mainstay of your your business, your patrons, the American Truck Drivers. These stories affect them by tarnishing their image
The irony behind it all is that the USA Today article implies that many serial killers are truckers, avoiding the real issue that truckers are actually targets and victims of violent crimes themselves, mainly due to the inadequately patrolled truck plazas that are havens for criminals. The fact is that there are criminals who are opportunists, and they see a trucking career as means of hiding their criminal activity through the cover up of a legitimate job.
The article does not accurately portray the character of the REAL OTR truck driver who is hard working, and sacrifices life luxuries to deliver them to everyone else. Truck drivers risk their lives in order to make a meager living. Many do live in their trucks and stay on the road for several months at a time.
The article actually creates more hostility and apathy towards drivers rather than the empathy that they deserve as they are targeted victims. This is what NATSO, OOIDA, Frank Silio, and the ATA should be displaying.
The truth is, NATSO and the ATA would rather just allow the misled public to believe the negative stereotype image about truckers so it will divert attention from the real issues: Lack of safe truck parking and the human trafficking crisis occurring at truck stops. In doing so it ensures that their bottom lines will not be affected, namely maintaining trusting customers to travel areas, deterring people from going to rest areas, preventing the encouragement to pass Jason’s law to create more safe parking areas, and keeping the “lowly image” driver pay down.
The ATA and NATSO are a tightly knit group and they continue to support each others goals and ambitions, denying and disregarding the true problems of the trucking industry for their own personal gain.