Trucker in crash that killed trooper fell asleep at wheel after working more than 14 hours: feds
A Wisconsin truck driver had been working more than 14 hours before he fell asleep at the wheel of his semitrailer, federal investigators have found, leading to a fiery crash that killed an Illinois State Police trooper on the Tri-State Tollway.
Andrew B. Bokelman, 26, has not been charged criminally in connection with the March 28 crash that killed Trooper James Sauter, of Vernon Hills, court records show. An Illinois State Police spokeswoman said Thursday an investigation is ongoing.
But Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that Bokelman and United Van Lines have been fined for breaking a federal rule prohibiting drivers on duty more than 14 hours from driving without getting 10 hours of rest.
Bokelman, who investigators said worked for United Van Lines agent Barrett Moving and Storage, was fined $2,500 as recommended. United Van Lines must pay $5,500.
But records show United Van Lines’ recommended fine was twice that — $11,000. Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the federal agency, said the fine was capped at $5,500 per policy because Bokelman broke the rule once in seven days.
Bokelman has not commented since the crash. The reports show that when Bokelman was hired in December, he had no previous truck-driving experience except for a Class A Commercial Truck Driving program he finished in fall 2012. He was given entry-level driver training and a road test after he was hired, an investigator wrote.
United Van Lines released a statement Thursday that said it is fully cooperating with authorities and continues “to be deeply saddened by the loss of Trooper Sauter.” A Barrett Moving and Storage representative didn’t return a call for comment.
Attorney L. Joseph Garr III also sent an email to federal authorities on April 19 on United’s behalf explaining that the company didn’t know about Bokelman’s work hours.
Investigators said Bokelman worked for Barrett from 6:31 a.m. until 6:32 p.m. the day of the crash. DeBruyne said Bokelman had been loading and unloading trucks “all day long.” Then, between 7:14 p.m. and 7:34 p.m., the trailer later involved in the crash was moved within Waukesha, Wis., according to GPS reports.
It began to travel again at 8:49 p.m., investigators wrote, and didn’t stop until 11:03 p.m., when it crashed in Cook County. The records say Bokelman was behind the wheel.
Garr wrote that Bokelman didn’t begin to operate under United Van Lines’ interstate authority until 8:49 p.m., and he said the company didn’t dispatch him. But DeBruyne said the company was fined because Bokelman broke the rule while working for United.
Sauter’s car was parked on the left shoulder of I-294 near mile 48.5 near Willow Road when Bokelman’s truck approached, according to an Illinois State Police crash report. It alleges that Bokelman fell asleep and the truck veered left, hitting Sauter’s cruiser in the rear and killing the trooper.
A witness said the truck was in the left lane, but police have said semitrailers are supposed to stay in the two right lanes. Bokelman was charged with improper lane usage the day of the crash, but the records show the ticket was dismissed on April 15.
Sauter, 28, had been a trooper since 2008 and earned a lifesaving medal as a cadet for coming to the aid of a female motorcycle crash victim that year.