'You will move, or you will die': A frightened truck driver's widely shared Facebook post says truckers will 'defend themselves' by running over protesters

·6 min read
truck driver minneapolis
A tanker truck drove into a crowd protesting the death of George Floyd on May 31 in Minneapolis.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

  • A truck driver named Bogdan Vechirko on Sunday was jailed on assault charges after he nearly drove an 18-wheeler into a large group of protesters in Minneapolis, but he was released without charges on Tuesday.

  • A Facebook post originally from a trucking-education page said truck drivers who are facing protesters have the right to drive into them. 

  • However, the burden is ultimately on trucking companies to ensure drivers do not end up in dangerous situations.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A 35-year-old truck driver nearly mowed over a group of protesters in Minneapolis on Sunday. Hours later, Mark Staite, a fellow truck driver, watched the video in his tractor with one thought going through his mind: "No, no, no, no." 

No one was killed or seriously injured. But the video, which was widely circulated online, showed that the truck driver, Bogdan Vechirko, did not slow down his truck until he was far into the crowd of demonstrators. Vechirko was jailed on assault charges but released on Tuesday without charges.

After Staite watched the video, he thought about the young people joining the trucking industry who he mentors through a small trucking-education group on Facebook and YouTube.

Staite told Business Insider: "99.9% of new drivers aren't trained in any of this stuff. They don't know how to respond to threat assessment or liability mitigation."

The training of truck drivers may seem like a minor discussion point as the coronavirus death toll passes 100,000 and law enforcement responds to protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, pushing American cities into chaos. 

But as demonstrators take over American highways, they're likely to clash with the nation's nearly 2 million truck drivers. The results could be disastrous. 

A widely shared post

After he watched Vechirko drive his truck into a crowd, Staite wrote a Facebook post that's now been shared more than 1,000 times. (A version of his post, edited without Staite's permission to be more inflammatory, was posted by a conservative media outlet called Uncle Sam's Misguided Children and shared more than half a million times.)

Staite, typing in his truck at 2 a.m., wrote that truck drivers have the right to self-defense — which Staite believes means the right to run protesters over to save their own lives, he said.

"We will defend ourselves every time, up to and including, using our 80,000-pound trucks and its 1,800 foot-pounds of torque to run you over," he wrote. "We don't want to, but will if we have to, to save our own life."

He added:

Congregating in the roadway will only get you run over. Having people standing and blocking the highway is a threat to our physical safety and we will respond appropriately to your attack. Standing in the roadway is NOT a protest. It is an attack on our safety. Air horns will sound, steering wheels will be held tightly, but those brakes will not be touched. You will move, or you will die. 80,000 pounds at 70 mph will win every time.

The post may strike some as jarring — and even as an excuse to kill protesters.

Staite has seen some commenters who seemed to get "excited" by the idea of running folks over. "That's not the point here," Staite said to Business Insider. "We, as professional drivers, don't want to run people over."

Staite said he supported protesters. "Most truck drivers are behind the peaceful protesters," he said. "We agree with the protest position that what happened was atrocious; it's despicable."

A truck driver nearly died in the 1992 Los Angeles demonstrations

Staite's post opens with a name many have likely forgotten:

The American trucker will not be held hostage, threatened, robbed, or killed. We will not be a victim. We will not be this generation's version of Reginald Denny. Every driver knows that name. Do you?

For truck drivers, the name Reginald Denny looms large. In 1992, when riots broke out in Los Angeles after the acquittal of four police officers filmed beating Rodney King, Denny, a truck driver, found himself surrounded by angry protesters. He stopped his truck to avoid running them over.

A group of men pulled Denny out of his trailer and beat him nearly to death on live television. Locals who saw the beatings play out rushed to the scene to save him and Denny survived. Denny came away with severe and permanent brain damage and 91 skull fractures.

Many truck drivers are terrified of finding themselves in Denny's position — but their training is often lacking on how to handle a situation like that.

The results have already turned deadly during the current protests. At 2 a.m. on May 30 in St. Louis, a FedEx truck driver who has not been identified struck and killed a man. Protesters, some of whom were armed, assailed the FedEx truck, causing him to initially slow down and blow his air horn before speeding away, The Daily Mail reported, citing police. The deceased man was trapped between two FedEx trailers. 

Trucking companies must take more responsibility for training and where they send drivers

Craig Fuller, who is the CEO of the freight-data and media company FreightWaves, said rejections — when drivers turn down jobs — to cities like Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, where protests have raged in recent days, have not spiked.

But some truck drivers have told Business Insider they are refusing to drive to those cities, especially if their route takes them through urban areas at night.

Truck drivers also suffer from an information deficit, putting them in uniquely dangerous situations. Unlike most Americans, truck drivers, who drive for up to 11 hours a day, cannot check their phones or televisions throughout the day. Staite, for instance, said he was unaware that cities had curfews until his wife told him on the phone days after curfews had gone into effect in many American cities.

Staite's Facebook post appears to be a symptom of the dangerous lack of training and information drivers have and the failure of trucking companies to responsibly administer either. Their employers, rather than placing truck drivers in a situation where some drivers feel they must be prepared to run over another human being, should be routing trucks outside of areas that may be dangerous or place the truckers in areas of conflict. 

"Fleets have a responsibility to the safety of the drivers and general public before anything else," Fuller told Business Insider. "Maintaining the supply chain is secondary."

Read more about truck drivers

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