The Low Road to Protest

The Low Road to Protest
Bullets and rocks fly as truckers try to block new taxes It started out as a nationwide protest against higher fuel taxes and
highway-user fees for trucks. But within hours, violence eclipsed the issues.
Shortly after 11 p.m. on the first day of the Independent Truckers Association
strike, George Franklin Capps, 34, a Teamster driver, lay slumped in
the cab of his 18-wheeler on Route 701, north of tiny Newton Grove, N.C.,
fatally shot in the neck by a sniper. “The strike is the last thing we talked
about,” recalled his widow Esmond. “I told him to be careful.” Indeed, care was increasingly warranted. By week's end there had been
more than 1,000 incidents of violence. Trucks were hit by gunfire and
damaged by brickbats and fire bombs; some had their tires slashed or were
set afire. Although Capps was the only fatality, more than 50 others were
injured, several seriously. Trucker Howard Abrams, 45, was shot in the chest
while unloading his rig in Utah. A trucker in Michigan was wounded in the
face by windshield glass when a shotgun blast hit his truck. And Melissa
Sarsfield, 14, suffered a fractured skull when a brick bounced off a truck into
her family's car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In at least 37 states, some highways were becoming unsafe at any speed. In
La Porte, Ind., a sniper fired at an 18-wheeler, missed, and hit Schoolteacher
Chris Balawender, 35, in the hip while he was driving a van loaded with
eleven children. He managed to keep the vehicle under control, averting a
major tragedy. One driver in Tampa, Fla., roused by fellow truckers, awoke
in his cab's sleeping compartment to find his trailer engulfed in flames. To
protect themselves, many truckers traveled only by day, and then only in
convoys. At night, drivers jammed rigs into crowded truck-stop parking lots
platooned with police and extra security guards to fend off vandals. Some
operators bypassed truck stops altogether, however, to avoid intimidation
by protesters. “I'm staying away from trouble,” said a Fogarty Van Lines
driver near Joliet, Ill. Some truckers took matters into their own hands. Robert Wells returned
fire when one of three men in a car pumped six shots into his rig on
I-55 near Crystal Springs, Miss. Three shots hit the driver's door, but Wells
escaped unharmed. Out of fear, as much as sympathy for the strike, some
truckers held a serf-proclaimed moratorium on work. Said a Texas trucker at
the Crossroads Truck Stop in Gary, Ind.: “A lot of guys have given up for a
few days, gone home and parked their rigs in the driveway hoping this nasty
stuff will blow over.” But for many, there was no choice. “Hell, I can't lay up,”
said Trucker Wayne Renn of Lima, Ohio. “I got bills to pay.”