I’ve read a lot of trucking accident stories in my time as a St. Louis semi truck accident attorney, but I was still surprised to read about a recent incident in Ozark. According to KYYY, a truck driver drove off without paying for gas at a truck stop in Greene County, Missouri, ultimately leading police on a chase for 20 miles before crashing his rig and fleeing into the woods. Jesse DeJongh, 18, stole $710 worth of fuel, then sped south in the northbound lanes of U.S. 65 with his lights off. An officer also says DeJongh attempted to hit a police car with his truck before he went off the road and fled into the woods. Officers located him in the woods when he used his cell phone, and DeJongh is now in custody for this as well as for an unrelated Colorado warrant.
The incident started when DeJongh fled Hood’s Truck Stop, near Bois D’Arc, without paying for his gas. A longtime customer followed the truck and confronted DeJongh in a parking lot, where DeJongh promised to return and pay for the gas. He didn’t, and law enforcement followed his truck to U.S. 65. Around Springfield, DeJongh entered the highway going the wrong way and kept going that way all the way to Ozark, with his headlights off at least part of the time. A Missouri Highway Patrol officer told the station’s news reporter that oncoming drivers didn’t see the truck and were only pulling over because they saw the emergency lights on police cars chasing the truck. Driver Charles Sullivan told KYYY that he’s grateful to the officers for driving ahead to warn him and feels lucky to be alive.
Ozark police officers tried without success to stop DeJongh with a spike strip at about 10:25 p.m. When that failed, the Christian County sheriff’s department laid another spike strip. This also failed, but an officer said DeJongh swerved and attempted to hit him in the median. In the end, DeJongh drove off an embankment near Highway BB, crashed his truck and fled on foot into the woods. Officers apprehended him five or six hours later after DeJongh used his cell phone. The Christian County Sheriff’s Department is holding him in lieu of $250,000 bail, facing charges from that county of assaulting a law enforcement officer. Greene County authorities also expected to charge DeJongh with crimes. In addition, DeJongh has outstanding warrants from Colorado for assault, harboring a minor, criminal mischief and harassment.
As a Missouri big rig accident lawyer, I strongly agree that drivers like Sullivan are lucky to be alive. This is almost a textbook case of irresponsible, unsafe behavior by a trucker. The article doesn’t indicate whether DeJongh is an independent trucker or an employee of a trucking company, but if he is an employee, his employer could be held legally liable for all of his actions. Under legal theories like vicarious liability and negligent entrustment, trucking companies and other employers have a legal obligation to ensure that they hire only people who can be trusted with the responsibility of driving a large vehicle carefully. Hiring someone for this job without checking into their history, or knowing full well that they have a bad past, can expose the company to trucking accident lawsuits after any future crash. That’s why, as a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident attorney, I strongly suspect DeJongh will not work as a truck driver again.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents people who have been hurt by the negligence of a trucker or trucking company. If your family has suffered a loss or an injury and you’d like to learn about your legal options, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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