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Truck I35w Protest Stephen Maturen

Protests pose new safety concerns for fleets

June 1, 2020
The mingling of heavy-duty trucks and highly agitated protests has created a new safety question for the trucking industry to answer: How to get through without adding fuel to the flames?

Over the weekend, the protests ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis became full-fledged riots, spreading across major cities across the nation and, in some cases, engulfing major interstates. The mingling of heavy-duty trucks and highly agitated protests has created a new safety question for the trucking industry to answer: How to get through without adding fuel to the flames?

One way is to learn from the recent example from Sunday evening, May 31. Video evidence provided by CBSN Minnesota showed the driver of a tanker truck traveling on the Interstate 35W Bridge in downtown Minneapolis threaded a narrow opening of a makeshift police barricade of three vehicles on the five-lane highway. The truck headed into the protest before slowing and coming to a halt. An estimated 5,000 people were on the bridge at the time.

According to an eye witness who spoke to Fox 9, the trucker came “barreling through the crowd” going 40 to 50 mph while blaring his horn. Then, a mob swarmed the tractor and pulled the driver out of the cab.

Before he was severely injured, some in the crowd were able to pull him out and hand him off to nearby police. In the following graphic Facebook Live stream, a man can be heard pleading, “We cannot hurt him; it defeats our purpose!”

The driver, Bogdan Vechirko, 35, was taken to a hospital to be treated for various non-life-threatening injuries and taken into custody for probable cause assault. According to The Washington Times, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said traffic cameras show that Vechirko was already on the freeway before it was closed. The report also noted that Gov. Tim Walz announced that the driver was apparently confused and didn’t mean to injure anyone. 

According to reports, the truck arrived on the bridge “minutes” after the gathering of thousands bent on one knee in a moment of silence for Floyd, the latest unarmed African-American to be killed by police on camera.

The driver also appeared to be hauling fuel. It must be noted that rioters in the city had previously burned down a police station, an under-construction low-income apartment building and several vehicles.

Back during the 1992 Los Angeles riots protesting the brutal police beating of Rodney King, truck driver Reginald Denny was nearly killed. Denny was taken from his truck, as well. As seen by helicopter camera, one rioter smashed a cinder block over 33-year-old Denny’s head. Four “Good Samaritans” saw the violence, raced to the scene and drove Denny’s truck to a hospital.

“[H]is speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged,” a 2007 Time article reported.

 A comparison not working in the driver's favor is the death of Charlottesville protester Heater Heyer in 2017, who was killed by a man labeled a white supremacist. That assailant received life in prison.

Vechirko is currently being investigated by the social media mob to uncover possible motivations.

The company that owns the truck, Kenan Advantage Group, released the following statement: “Our hearts go out to all those who are grieving the events of this past week. We have been informed of an incident involving one of our independent contractors in Minneapolis, MN during recent protests. Our first and foremost concern is for the safety and security of the public, our employees and our customers.”

The most pressing matter now is for fleets and logistics companies to create an action plan for drivers if the violence escalates. Management needs to make clear what the company rules are for carrying firearms, as well as the specific laws for each state drivers will travel through.

As the situation is fluid, those rules are not clear yet. If you want to share how you are keeping your fleet safe, and what that means, please email FleetOwner at: [email protected].

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor

John Hitch, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, is the editor of Fleet Maintenance, a B2B magazine that addresses the service needs for all commercial vehicle makes and models (Classes 1-8), ranging from shop management strategies to the latest tools to enhance uptime.

He previously wrote about equipment and fleet operations and management for FleetOwner, and prior to that, manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician aboard a nuclear-powered submarine.

For tips, questions or comments, email [email protected].

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