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Sunday, November 30, 2014

My trucking life or (possible) death decision - What would you have done?
With all the racially charged theatrics going on in the country these last few weeks, it made me think of a split second decision I had to make back in the very early 1990’s.

I was on an over the road trip from Wisconsin to Texas and had my now ex-wife with me. It was a good multi-stop mileage run that went to Dallas, made a triangle to San Antonio and Houston before the return to Wisconsin. I would grab this run whenever I got the chance because it paid very well.

After completing my stops in Dallas, I pre-tripped the tractor and trailer, discovering a flat tire on the trailer in the process. It was mid-afternoon and we were near the central, urban and rundown area of the city. I looked in my truck shop directory and found the nearest facility, which I decided to drive over and get the tire repaired. I was not familiar with the area and after exiting the freeway, noticed that the neighborhood was very seedy with vacant buildings and dilapidated houses.

We entered the truck shop yard without incident and had the tire repaired. Eager to get back on the road and out of the city before the afternoon rush, I didn’t waste any time. I thought the way back to the freeway was simple, but, I made a wrong turn. That’s when our day went bad.

I found myself in a residential neighborhood that was full of porch sitters and gang-banger types. The speed limit was 25 mph and I proceeded down the street, intending to turn left at the next corner and work my way back to the freeway. As we approached the intersection, there was a gang of approximately 15 black young people standing around the corner. As I slowed for the turn, I was observant, watching them watch us. One of them was yelling something at the others and raised his fist, they all started quickly off the curb directly in front of the truck facing me.

The only thing that I thought was that if I stopped that truck, we would be robbed, beaten or killed. I grabbed the lever, downshifted and mashed the throttle wide open as I pulled on the air horn. The bangers scattered in all directions with one tripping over another as he fell. A couple of them on my left barely made it out of the way, I steered right to avoid them, but there was no way I was going to lift off the throttle. I then started grabbing gears in case one or more of them had a gun.

I kept going straight to the next corner before turning as my wife screamed at me “You could have killed somebody!”. I was dumbfounded and yelled back “What did you want me to do, stop?. We could have been killed!”. She didn't respond and I don’t remember that we ever discussed it further.

I grew up in the “inner core” of Milwaukee in the 1950’s and 60’s and I remember the evil that permeates in those gangs. My ex-wife lived 15 years in Salt Lake City and spent many more living in northern Wisconsin and was away from all that.

What would you have done? My life could have completely changed that day if I had killed one of them. It would have been one lone white guy and his wife’s word against the whole neighborhood. I’m so sick of these race baiters like Jackson and Sharpton that keep stoking the fires for their own personal gain.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bears fan treated with grace at Lambeau
The Green Bay Packers, in my opinion, have the greatest fans in the country. There are always some exceptions, but all in all, I'm proud to be from Wisconsin. Read this account from a Chicago Bear fan, thanks to and, of course, Vince Slisz. I've read many other accounts of how opposing teams fans are treated at Lambeau. Links provided:
11/22/2014  My son Alex and I were invited to go to the Packers/Bears game by my daughter's longtime Green Bay fan boyfriend, Jason. Neither my son nor I have ever been in Green Bay, so we looked forward to it with some apprehension as we know how Green Bay fans are treated here in Chicago.
Three blocks from the stadium I twisted my back and had trouble walking. Luckily Alex and Jason are two big guys, each grabbing one of my arm s and helping me the rest of the way. Upon entering the stadium an employee saw I was having trouble and hurried over to me with a much welcome wheelchair. He pushed me onto an elevator in my Bears jersey and hat.
There was another man in a wheelchair, that he appeared to need daily, dressed in his Packers jersey and hat. I asked, how you doing? He said better than you, I am a Packers fan. Everyone on the elevator laughed the whole ride.
I was wheeled as close as possible to my seat. where I had to take one step at a time. We were eight rows up on the 30-yard line behind the Bears. All the way down, Packers fans offered me their arms and hands to help me to my seat. As there are no backs to the seats, I had trouble sitting up straight. Not two minutes into the game a Packers fan gave me the chair that hooks on to the seat.
I don't think I have ever seen such kindness at any sporting event, and there was no doubt I was a Bears fan. I want to thank everyone in Green Bay for their kindness, even the next day. I will be sure to tell everyone I know this story. It made a painful day, in more ways than one, a day to remember in human kindness.
Vince Slisz, Orland Park, IL

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Huh? Drivers Demand Fair Pay from Walmart? Say What?

Only in La La Land, the People's Republic of California. According to what I've seen published, Walmart is one of the top companies in the country for driver pay. I've read that their average annual compensation is between $70,000 and $80,000! Walmart runs a tight ship and their drivers work hard for their money. But this is ridiculous. How many millions of dollars will Walmart have to spend to defend itself? Story thanks to Links provided:

Drivers Demand Fair Wages: Class Action Suit Filed Against Wal-Mart

The war over driver pay and minimum wage has raged off and on for decades now, but it looks like the tide may shift soon as a new legal battle is about to start in California courts. A judge has just approved class action status for a lawsuit being brought against Wal-Mart Transportation by a group of drivers claiming that Wal-Mart is violating state law by failing to pay them minimum wage.

You’ve probably heard this argument before, this ‘new’ case was actually first filed back in 2008, but it was only approved for class action status last week, which was the push that was needed to get the ball rolling.

Wal-Mart drivers are paid by the mile like most of the drivers in this industry, and also receive pay for any activity that Wal-Mart deems compensable. Some non-compensable duties drivers must perform are pre and post-trip inspections, completing paperwork, rest breaks, fueling, and maintaining and washing their rigs.

Again, all of this is fairly standard in the industry, but the plaintiffs in the case argue that while minimum wage requirements are satisfied if only driving time is taken into account, when you count the so-called non-compensable duties as part of the work day, Wal-Mart’s pay falls short.

It’s not only the below-minimum-wage pay that drivers are claiming is illegal. They also take issue with the lack of state mandated paid meal breaks, and failing to provide accurate wage statements.

There isn’t anything really remarkable about Wal-Mart’s treatment of its drivers, but that’s precisely what makes this case so important. It’s a high-profile company with a large class action suit being brought against it for the payment practices that the majority of carriers employ. If this domino falls, it could have a huge impact on the rest of the industry.

More in depth article below thanks to The Links provided:

Truck drivers employed by Wal-Mart have been granted class action status in a lawsuit over the employer’s alleged failure to pay minimum wage in violation of the California Labor Code.
The California district court determined that the drivers met the requirements of Rule 23 after concluding that they identified common questions of law and fact concerning the alleged minimum wage violations and waiting-time penalties. The court also found that common questions regarding Wal-Mart’s pay formula meant that common issues predominated over individualized issues as required by Rule 23(b)(3).
However, certification was denied as  a class action for the employee’s wage statement claims.
Former truck drivers employed by Wal-Mart brought a class action suit alleging that the mega retailer violated various provisions of the California Labor Code and Business and Professional Code by failing to pay minimum wage, provide meal and rest breaks, and provide accurate wage statements.
According to the employees, Wal-Mart uniformly applied policies, detailed in its driver pay manuals, that rendered the issues in this case appropriate for class action. Specifically, they alleged that Wal-Mart’s piece-rate pay policies did not provide minimum wages and did not pay drivers for certain mandatory activities, in violation of California law. Wal-Mart pays its drivers based on mileage, activity pay (for duties Wal-Mart deems compensable), and non-activity pay (for events at Wal-Mart dispatch and home offices or unplanned events). The drivers contended that Wal-Mart’s piece-rate pay policies did not pay drivers minimum wage for all of the work they perform for tasks such as pre- and post-trip inspections; rest breaks; fueling; washing the tractors; weighing the tractors; completing mandatory paperwork; wait time and layover periods. When drivers are given a driving assignment, they also receive a projected estimated time of arrival. Drivers are to look at the estimated time only as an estimate and adjust it with the knowledge that they need a 10-minute rest break and/or a meal break under California law. The drivers have full autonomy to make changes to the estimated times.
Tasks including fueling, washing, and weighing trucks are not separately paid. Additionally, drivers must remain in the tractor when fueling at a regional distribution center and may be required to fuel their own tractor when fueling at a grocery distribution center. Drivers are also responsible for the cleanliness of the tractor and trailer and must wash them once per week, or as often as needed.
As to the waiting time issue, drivers are not separately compensated for all time spent waiting. Under the 2001Driver Pay Manual, the first two hours of wait time after arrival at a store, an hour after arrival at a vendor and when waiting at a return center, is non-compensable. The manual further states that drivers are not paid for wait time when routine scheduled maintenance is performed on equipment, when undergoing a DOT inspection, or for any time spent at a highway weigh scale.
Drivers were paid $42 for 10-hour layover periods. A layover is earned when taking a mandatory DOT break and is not paid in conjunction with any other type of pay.
In additional to an overall class of California drivers, the employees also sought to certify a waiting-time penalty sub-class. Wal-Mart argued that the employees’ questions were not capable of class resolution because the question of whether drivers were paid for various tasks required individualized inquiries. It also argued that the policies in its manuals were merely “guidelines” and that the employees’ inquiries required driver-by-driver and task-by-task analysis.
The court determined that the employees met the commonality requirement for the proposed class of drivers and found that the employees identified common questions of law and fact concerning minimum wages, including: whether Wal-Mart’s piece-rate pay plan violated California’s minimum wage laws by failing to pay drivers minimum wage for all hours worked; whether Wal-Mart’s drivers are entitled to payment of at least minimum wages for all hours worked; and whether Wal-Mart requires drivers to perform services during DOT-mandated layovers, for which drivers are paid less than California’s minimum wage.
Similarly, the court concluded that the drivers had also identified a common question of law and fact concerning waiting-time penalties: whether Wal-Mart violated Labor Code Sec. 203 by willfully failing to pay all wages due and owing to each driver whose employment ended at any time during the class period.
Again, the court found that the employees’ question can be resolved on a class-wide basis, and so they satisfied the commonality requirement for the waiting-time penalty subclass.
Observing that the employees’ theory of recovery involved Wal-Mart’s common practice or policy denying all class members minimum wage for all hours worked and that the  plaintiffs were subject to the policies and suffered the same injury as a result of the policies, the court found that they met the typicality requirement. Additionally, because Wal-Mart did not challenge the adequacy of the representative plaintiffs to serve as class representative, the court found that they met the adequacy requirements of Rule 23(a)(4).
With respect to the driver class, Wal-Mart first argued that the plaintiffs had not offered a way to determine which drivers performed which tasks or the amount of time spent on those tasks in California, so they could not meet the predominance requirement. However, the court found its argument unpersuasive. It found that the plaintiffs were California residents and worked out of distribution centers located in California. Further, it found that the plaintiffs presumptively enjoyed the protections of IWC regulations, so Wal-Mart’s argument presented no bar to the predominance requirement. The court also rejected Wal-Mart’s argument that the employees’ minimum wage claims required an hour-by-hour, driver-by-driver, and task-by-task analysis of how each plaintiff spent his workday, and these individual questions would overwhelm any common questions.
Instead, the court concluded that Wal-Mart’s pay formula raised common questions, and these common questions predominated over individual questions of whether certain drivers received additional discretionary pay after requesting such payments, or whether some drivers completed tasks like paperwork during wait-time or attended to personal phone calls during layovers. Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiffs satisfied the predominance requirement for their minimum wage claims. However, the court denied the employees’ motion for class certification for claims of inaccurate wage statements because they did not show that class members shared a common injury as a result of the missing wage statement information that could be adjudicated on a class-wide basis or that there were common legal question that predominated over the individualized issues for plaintiffs’ wage statement claims.
Wal-Mart also challenged whether the plaintiffs had established predominance for their waiting-time claims under California Labor Code Sec. 203. According to the plaintiffs, Wal-Mart’s policy of failing to pay drivers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked constituted a violation of Sec. 203. They suggested that Wal-Mart instituted a payment system that ensured its drivers were not paid the minimum wage. Under this framing of the waiting-time issue, the court found that common questions predominated and individualized inquiries into each driver’s underpayment were not required.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Florida Woman Cheats Owner-Operators out of nearly $250,000

From the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida

Tallahassee Woman Indicted for Using Fraudulent IRS Stamps

September 2, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA– United States Attorney Pamela C. Marsh, Northern District of Florida, announced that Elisa Christina Avila Jackson, 30, of Tallahassee, Florida, was arraigned this afternoon in court after being charged by a federal grand jury with five counts of wire fraud and one count of possessing a counterfeit Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) stamp.
The indictment alleges that between June 7, 2011, and February 11, 2014, Jackson conducted a scheme to defraud owners of large tractor trailers around the State of Florida of monies that were to be paid to the IRS relating to the federal Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax.  Jackson operated Bee’s Carrier Permitting and Licensing, Inc. (“BCPL”), which purportedly provided assistance to owners of large tractor trailers in preparing and filing their annual applications for registration with the State of Florida.  As mandated by federal regulation, prior to issuing a vehicle registration, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles required BCPL and others applying for annual large tractor trailer registrations to provide a copy of a tax form stamped by the IRS as proof that the owner’s federal Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax had been paid.
The indictment further alleges that Jackson collected from BCPL customers the amount due and owing to the IRS for the Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax and promised to pay that amount to the IRS.  However, rather than paying the Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax to the IRS, Jackson created fraudulent IRS forms bearing a counterfeit IRS numbered remittance stamp, which forms falsely reflected that these taxes had been remitted to the IRS.  The indictment also charges that through this scheme, Jackson fraudulently obtained approximately $248,000.00.
Counts One through Five of the indictment charge Jackson with wire fraud.  For each of these counts, if convicted, Jackson faces a term of imprisonment of not more than twenty (20) years, a period of supervised release of up to three (3) years, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 special monetary assessment.  Count Six of the indictment charges Jackson with possession of an IRS stamp with intent to defraud.  If convicted on this count, Jackson faces a term of imprisonment of not more than five (5) years, a period of supervised release of up to three (3) years, a fine of up to $10,000, and a $100 special monetary assessment.
The trial of this case is scheduled for November 3, 2014, before the Honorable Robert L. Hinkle.
The indictment results from an investigation by the IRS-Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of the Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Commercial Vehicle and Driver Services.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jason Beaton.
An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt.  The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial in a court of law.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Truckers Celebrating Holidays Away From Home

The following is a guest post thanks to and written by Caroline Hill. The company she works for owns and operates an online job board for jobs in the trucking industry called Check them out at the links provided:

Some folks decide to spend holidays away from home to do something different. Like maybe they feel that celebrating Thanksgiving in Hawaii would make them more thankful…or maybe Christmas in the Caribbean suits people who move to the beat of their own drummer. But the reality is, celebrating holidays away from home is not a choice for many; but rather, just another part of their job. Truckers commonly have to keep moving even when most are able to have time off celebrating with families.   

When an individual chooses a trucking career, they usually understand the endeavor they are venturing into.  Typically, truckers are away from home for about three weeks a month. A lot of times there’s no choice when it comes to getting home for weekends and holidays. After all, the holiday season wouldn’t even happen if it wasn’t for the truck drivers supplying store shelves with all the things we need.

The holiday season causes a lot of stress and it especially can take a toll on the morale of truck drivers. The season leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. can cause increase in deadlines and extra loads. Worse yet, anxiety builds, as truckers rarely know whether or not they’ll be spending the holiday at home or not until last minute.  

So how do truckers far from home celebrate holidays if not at home?  And how do they cope with the additional stress that comes along with it?

A lot of truck drivers come up with creative solutions to missing a chance to be home for the holidays. Like many military families, they learn to schedule holiday celebrations for days they will be home. For instance, a driver may not be able to be home for December 25th to celebrate Christmas with his wife and kids. But, maybe a few weeks prior or afterward they can schedule their own special day. In some cases, celebrating on a different day brings the true meaning to the purpose of the season; highlighting the main focus of holidays, which is time, spent with loved ones.

Another solution for beating the missed-holiday blues is to find a support network of others who are going through the same thing.  Finding individuals who are going through similar emotions is a great way to find comfort.  And thank goodness for the technology we have now that allows modern drivers to video chat with mobile devices to family and friends. Now, at least a driver can see their special people in their lives, even if it’s only on screen.

The best way to get over the seasonal blues that come along with trucking during the holidays, is to realize that although this is one of the hardest parts of your career, there’s still a lot to be thankful for. In the grand scheme of things, you have food in your belly, a steady career and income, and a warm place to stay. Although you may be missing your loved ones dearly, it’s important to be reminded that AT LEAST you have those people in your life. And, if that’s not enough reason to keep truckin’ during the holiday season…I don’t know what is.

For more like this, check out “The Tractor Factor” blog at

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ticket Camera Companies - Amping Up The Rhetoric
Please, before you believe the scare tactics of these companies, examine some of the real facts, as outlined below. The real purpose behind all this is revenue, revenue and more revenue. To the camera companies, state and local governments, and to "friendly" politicians. As in the name of campaign contributions and favors. It's more of the same from the ones that started "red light" and "speed zone" camera revenue generators. Example: put up a red light camera at an intersection and then reduce the time of the yellow light!

Article thanks to James C.Walker and the National Motorists Association. Help support the cause, you can join for FREE at

Cutting through the Emotional Rhetoric

Editor’s Note: The ticket camera companies are masters at exploiting the public’s emotional responses to traffic accidents and fatalities. Nothing like conjuring up a little fear and outrage to sell a few “safety” cameras, especially when the potential victims are school children. Nowhere is this cynicism more apparent than with school bus “stop arm” cameras that record alleged passing violations at school bus stops.

The camera companies would have us believe that school children are particularly vulnerable to careless motorists who don’t stop for the bus, but the truth is most school-age pedestrian fatalities involving school buses are caused by the bus. We’ve run the numbers here. Executive Director of the NMA Foundation Jim Walker provides his own provocative assessment of the safety value of schol bus cameras in this letter to officials in Rockingham County, Virginia.

Dear Rockingham County Officials,

I have several points.

1) Please follow the math carefully to relate the probability that the school bus stop arm cameras could prevent an injury or fatality to a school child in Rockingham County.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports School Transportation-Related Crashes each year, for a 10 year period. The latest report is NHTSA report # 811890 covering 2003 through 2012. It shows that 36 under-age-19 pedestrians were killed by passing cars in that 10 year period.  The numbers in the last 5 annual reports have been 36, 35, 32, 35, and 36 so the numbers are very stable over time. Note that this is less than one fatality per state per 10 years by passing vehicles, an extremely rare event.

Note also in this same 10 year time frame 83 under-age-19 pedestrians were killed by the school bus or a vehicle acting as the school bus, so 70 percent of the young pedestrian fatalities were caused by the bus, not by passing vehicles. The dangers to children are much higher from the buses than from other vehicles.

NHTSA does not produce reports for injuries of under-age-19 pedestrians in School Transportation-Related Crashes, but nationwide there are about 80 injuries for each fatality in all types of transportation crashes. It is likely that the number of such injuries for the decade of 2003-2012 is somewhere around 36 x 80 = 2,880. Dividing 2,880 by 51 for the states plus DC, and by 10 for the time frame, means an average of about 5.6 injuries per year per state for under-age-19 pedestrians in crashes with passing vehicles.

In the latest numbers I could find, Rockingham County had about 11,400 K-12 school children, so let’s look at the proportion for Rockingham County. The United States has about 54,876,000 K-12 school children, so Rockingham represents 11,400 divided by 54,876,000 = .000207741 of the countrywide total.

For fatalities: 36 x .000207741 = .007478676, so if every child in Rockingham County rides a school bus and the cameras prevented 100 percent of the fatalities from passing cars, the county would prevent .007478676 fatalities per decade, or .0007478676 fatalities per year. This means you could expect to prevent one fatality about every 1,337 years with the cameras.

For injuries: 2,880 x .000207741 = .59829408, so if every child in Rockingham County rides a school bus and the cameras prevented 100 percent of the injuries from passing cars, the county would prevent .59829408 injuries per decade or .059829408 injuries per year. This means you could expect to prevent one injury about every 16.7 years with the cameras.

I hope this proportional math makes it clear that any promises made to you or any hopes you have yourselves about actual safety results in Rockingham County in any reasonable time frame from the stop arm cameras are false. The numbers of injuries and fatalities caused by passing vehicles are very small overall, and Rockingham County has a very small proportion of the school age children in the nation.

2) In the above math, there are some assumptions that simply won't be true.

a) It is likely that not every child rides the bus every school day.

b) The cameras will not stop 100 percent of the possible injuries or fatalities. Some of the crashes involve drivers that are DUI, medically impaired, heavily distracted by something, or even fleeing police. The chance that a ticket would be mailed to them after the fact will not affect those crashes, because those drivers either didn't see the warning flashers on the bus at all, or deliberately ignored them.

c) Bad weather will sometimes cause some drivers to under-estimate their stopping distance, and they will slide into the danger area even when they see the warning flashers.

Ticket camera companies often promise a lot, but deliver a lot less, or sometimes deliver nothing of actual value for safety.

In short, in my opinion, the emotional appeal of stop arm cameras is very strong but the probabilities of actual safety results in Rockingham County are very near to zero.

Respectfully submitted,

James C. Walker
Life Member, National Motorists Association
Board Member and Executive Director, National Motorists Association Foundation



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Every Day a Holiday, Every Meal a Feast - Free Chapter!

11/11/2014 Today is Veteran's Day. This is a re-post from 8/15/2012 about a relative of mine who put his life on the line for our country during President Reagan's years in the 1980's. He wrote an excellent 400 page book about his experiences, of which you can read a free chapter below. It's a great read and I had a hard time putting it down! Enjoy:
True experiences of a boy from Wisconsin growing up and becoming a US Marine during the Reagan years of the 80's. Chapter 104 is posted below. Enjoy! Author is Edward "Jack" Dinse. Previously posted. Now, Amazon Prime readers can read the entire book for free, also instant Kindle purchase available.

#104  Thank You Louis L’Amour
We went to Marine Corps Base, 29 Palms for live fire training that would culminate in a CAX, (Combined Arms Exercise). But before that, we had to complete several training cycles on a platoon and company level. Being in Headquarters Platoon, meant that we mainly went through the company portions. This gave us enlisted men more downtime. That gave Captain Thompson ideas about how to use us in other roles. Since I had been through sniper training, he thought that would be a good time to practice my craft. There was no specific course set up for this, so he came up with his own plan. I would be dropped off at the base of one of the hills that looked like giant Hershey’s Kisses near Lavik Lake. I would make my way to the top with my rifle, web-gear, binoculars and a radio to act as a lookout. How this was to hone my skills as a sniper is anybody’s guess, but this was the plan and I was to be ready before first light. Actually, I was to be in place by first light, the jeep that would take me there was due to leave Tent City an hour before! I checked my gear and filled canteens the evening before. I even borrowed two extra canteens for the day. I hit the rack early knowing the new day was starting early!
I signed out my rifle from the Armorer and a radio from the Communications Chief just before getting in the jeep the next morning. Neither of these Marines were happy to get up extra early just to sign out my gear and I heard about it from them! I shrugged my shoulders and told them it was the Captain’s idea. I checked the radio and even took an extra battery because I knew that the one in the radio never lasts very long. I had two MRE meals in my backpack along with the extra battery, a small camo net and the binos. I had the company radio frequencies, the emergency frequency and a map of the area stowed in my cover. I was good to go when I got into the passenger seat of the jeep. The ride was uneventful all the way out to my post. It was a long way from Tent City, through several training areas, and at least twenty miles on the trails. This was my first trip to 29 Palms, but I had been out to Lavic Lake three times so far driving the blade tank. I had even bulldozed a couple of tank positions just below the hill I was to watch from. Because of this, I thought nothing of being left alone for most of the day. I was to be picked up at around 1500 Hours by a jeep sent from Headquarters. I started climbing as the jeep driver turned the jeep around and then watched as it disappeared into the darkness.
I made my way to the top mostly by feel, hoping the whole time that I did not encounter a sidewinder or a scorpion! I did not think that a sidewinder would slither up a rock pile, but the scorpions seemed to be all over if you looked hard enough for them! I made it to the top in one piece and set myself up just below the peak, where I could still see all around the mound. I moved some rocks around to make a small hole to sit in. Then I took the camo net and spread it over the top, holding the corners in place with rocks. It would blend in from the air and at a distance while providing me some shade. All I had to worry about was the wind making it ripple, so I dropped some small rocks in the slack parts to keep it taunt. I set up the radio next, trying to make the antenna jut out at an angle instead of straight up, which is a dead give away to anyone looking for an antenna! I called the company HQ to let them know that I was in place and asked for a radio check. I got a garbled reply, but I understood enough to know that I was breaking up to them also. There was a ridgeline of the Chocolate Mountains between us, so I assumed that was my problem. But since there would be three of our platoons training today, I was sure I could relay any message through one of them. As I sat back and enjoyed the sunrise, I wished that I had brought my camera, even though it was no picnic carrying the radio and pack up the hill!
I may have enjoyed the sunrise, but by 1000 Hours it was hot! After all, this was the Mojave Desert and it was the summer! I watched all morning and saw nothing. Once I thought that I saw dust and diesel smoke through the binoculars, but it was much closer to Tent City than it was to me so I had to assume that it was one of our platoons. Around Noon, I heard jet engines. Four A-4s flew past my perch and dropped their ordinance on Lavic Lake. One passed close enough to where I sat that I could see the insignia of VMFA-214: the Blacksheep Squadron. At first I thought it was great, they had dropped their 500 lb bombs just below me. Then I wondered if Captain Thompson had cleared my being there through the base Training Coordinator! If he didn’t, that meant that I was part of an impact area! Shit! But for now these pilots were bombing from about the same altitude or lower than I was at. I decided to get on the horn and report the activity, maybe it would get someone’s attention if I was not supposed to be here! I keyed the mike and tried to raise headquarters. Nothing. I tried 2nd Platoon’s frequency with the same results. I turned the squelch down and realized that the battery was dead. No problem, that is why I hauled that other heavy battery all the way up here in my backpack. Ten minutes later I had the batteries swapped out and found that the “new” battery was dead too! This was really nice! What in the hell was I supposed to do now, send up smoke signals? I was up a creek without a paddle! Okay, I was up a hill without a radio – same thing. The new battery had still been in its’ wrapper, it was brand new! Well, it had not been used anyway. For all I know, it might have been made during the Viet Nam War! Either way I was screwed. All I could do now was to wait for my ride to show up.
1500 Hours came and went with no jeep in the area. Maybe there was something going on and I was going to be picked up late. I hope this isn’t going to take too long, I was down to one canteen of water and had been drinking the one before sparingly! By 1600 Hours I was swapping batteries again and hoping to get out one last message. Still nothing. By this time I knew I had real problems! I had packed most of my gear before 1500, but now I went through things again. If I was going back to Tent City, I thought it prudent to plan on walking in! And if I was hiking back, I was sure as hell was not about to carry back two dead radio batteries! I dumped the one out of the pack and took the other out of the radio. I left them in the bottom of my little hole so that they could be retrieved later if it became an issue. I stowed the radio in the pack and surveyed the remains of my MRE meals. I still had one entrĂ©e, Beef Stew, and a couple of condiments; a jelly and a cheese packet. The packets of coffee and powdered creamer were useless, so I opened them and dumped the contents on the ground. I kept the sugar packets for the energy they might provide. I put what I could use in the cargo pockets of my trousers, the trash I stowed in a pocket of the pack. The binoculars and web gear went inside the backpack with the radio. I finally took down the camo net that had provided shade for me all day long. Once the gear was put away, I descended to the desert floor. Pack on my back, rifle slung over my shoulder and a full canteen hung at my hip, I saddled up for the long walk ahead of me. I still hoped to see dust from a jeep at any moment.
Now I had no idea about a number of things as I set out. I had no idea if a jeep was on its’ way for me, so I kept on the dirt trail so that I would meet it part way back. I did not know how far I would go before I ran out of daylight, so I set a good pace. I was not sure how long the water would last, but I vowed not to drink until I had to and not too much when I did drink. I did not know how far I had to walk, but I knew that was over twenty miles. I was not sure how I would navigate in the dark, but I had a map and matches from the MREs. All of these things I felt I could overcome. There were a few things that held unanswered questions for me. What about the sidewinders once the sun set and they came out to hunt for food? Would I have to slow down once it got dark? And then there was the big question; would I be walking into a “live” impact area? What about any unexploded ordinance that I might not see in the dark? How long could I jog before dark? Would jogging use up too much energy? Should I cache some of this gear to save weight? No matter what questions I came up with, I knew I had to move and not wait. I could not afford to take a chance on staying overnight. I would just be starting a new day with fewer supplies if no one happened to showed up. It was still hot but it was getting cooler and would get better as I went. It would be impossible to walk that far through the hot part of the day with only one canteen of water. And if I had to wait until tomorrow evening, I would be too dehydrated to have a decent chance. It came down to a simple choice; do I put my life in someone else’s hands or do I take care of myself? And since there had been no jeep to pick me up, I knew that I really had no option. Live or die, it was my choice.
I started out at a quick “route step” with all of my gear. It would be just my luck for it to be lost, stolen or destroyed before I could return to retrieve it. After the first mile, I turned to see how far I had gone. It was disappointing to see that the “Hershey Kisses” still appeared to be very close yet. And although the air was cooler, the heat was radiating up from the ground I walked on. It had all day long to absorb as much heat as possible, and now it was releasing it. This made for hot walking now and it would attract snakes, lizards and insects later on as everything else cooled off. Well, at least I had no problems following the road for now. Not that it was much of a road, just two dirt tracks pounded to dust by years of use by tanks, trucks, jeeps, halftracks and everything else the Marine Corps drove. I was worried about later on, once it got dark. I knew that there was at least one main branch that ran away from the main trail. Most trails branched into this one as I headed toward Tent City. I knew that one branch would also take me where I wanted to go, but it would add an extra mile or two if I took it by accident. There was an intersection that I must turn South at, but I should be there in an hour or two, long before dark. I stepped out with determination and put another mile behind me, and now the distance seemed noticeable. I just kept hoping to see a jeep headed in my direction! Two more miles and a half hour later, I could see the twin peaks where I started, but I could also see the lava flow to the North of a small pass I would get to a couple of miles before that critical turn. As I walked on, I remembered why I liked being in tanks over being a grunt! I hated walking, but it was better than when we were in bootcamp where a long line of recruits tried to keep up with the Company Commander! I could make my own pace here, and walking beat the hell out of dying while waiting for a jeep to appear! I made the turn southward as the sun hung bright red over the horizon. It would be setting within an hour and I would have some light for about an hour after that. I took a swig from the canteen and was grateful that the air was cooler now. Even the road was losing some of its’ built up heat. Now it only felt like a hot grill instead of a blast furnace under me! Thank God for small things!
I had made a good deal of headway by the time it grew dark. I was on the main trail toward Tent City and Mainside beyond that. I was hoping to see lights from the airstrip or Mainside to help guide me, but as of yet I had nothing. I had slowed down a little as it grew dark, so I kicked it up a bit after I took a sip from the canteen. Warm water, whoopee! I opened the beef stew at the corner of the package and squeezed the contents through the hole, into my mouth. My last meal? As much as I like beef stew, I sure hoped not! I told myself that this was the hardest part of the walk back to camp, it easily was the longest. I knew that the Chocolate Mountains were to my left, but the rest of the terrain was pretty much the same through here. When the trail passed through some small washout gullies, I would know that I was getting close. But for now I had fairly smooth landscape to pass through. This was an area where a lot of trails joined this main one toward Tent City. Maybe I could catch a ride if anyone was coming in from night maneuvers. That is if they didn’t run me over first! Now that I thought about it, I had not heard much for weapons fire in quite awhile. Good, let’s keep it that way! Now I thought about the sidewinders coming out to warm up on the trail. Damn, I was much better off not thinking of that! I shuffled my feet to kick up debris to keep from surprising any snakes. I soon gave this up though; it slowed me down and took too much energy. Well, I would just take my chances I guess. I tried to put it out of my mind, thinking about the mental picture of the trail in my mind. I was getting thirsty again, but decided to eat the cheese spread instead. And although it did have moisture in it, it also had a lot of salt and it did not help much. I was still thirsty. One more thing not to think about,
Somewhere along this stretch, I really started to get tired. I was not just sleepy, but just getting bone tired. If they would not be all on my case about it, I would dump the pack and all of its’ contents. I would leave the crap right here and move on. Not an option, so I kept moving. My pace was not what it was when I started out, but I was moving anyway. I thought about sitting down and taking a break, but I knew better because I would rest for too long. No, it was better to just keep walking. Besides, my eyes were adjusted to the darkness now and I could tell where Mainside was. So if I did miss Tent City, I should make it to Mainside instead, since it was only a couple of miles further. But I really did not want to go any further than I had to. I still stayed on the trail; I was still playing it safe and hoping for a ride. I ate the grape jelly and took a sip of water, then a second sip. I had half a canteen left and was still in good shape there. I was wishing for something to give me an energy boost when I heard machinegun fire. “Be careful what you wish for buddy boy.” I stepped it up a notch, (or half a notch), and thought about that burst of fire. I had been daydreaming and it took me by surprise. Then I heard a second burst. It was behind me, not very far away. I turned to look and saw tracers arc out into the darkness, then I heard the shots. .50 caliber and a mile away, maybe a little more. The tracers were headed away from me so I had nothing to worry about, unless they changed their direction of fire! Could they be vehicle mounted and moving? I didn’t think so; I would have heard tanks on the move. I didn’t think there were any amtracs out here, but I might have heard those also. Now if they were the new LAVs, then I might be in trouble, they were much quieter. It was probably a grunt heavy machinegun section. None of them should be firing in my direction as long as I stayed on the trail, I hoped. What I was worried about was the possibility of someone shooting from a range card toward “troops on the road”. It was possible; we usually set up our range cards with possible troop movement areas laid out. I headed away from the firing at a good pace!
I don’t know how long I had been walking now; it had seemed like an eternity by now. I had probably done a bit more than three miles an hour for a few hours and over two miles an hour for the rest of the time. I had hit the little branch in the trail a little while ago and was headed toward Tent City and the airstrip. Tent City was between me and the airstrip, and both were North of Mainside. I had to be getting close, but it was hard to tell just where everything was laid out. If I had a little altitude, I was sure that I would be able to see Tent City. The sun was just starting to turn the eastern sky pale. This meant that it was around 0400, I had been walking for about eleven hours! Damn, I must have overshot the camp in the darkness! I stopped for a drink and to think about my calculations. I only had a little water left after taking a good pull from the canteen. I needed to stop and think, panicking would get me killed now. Had I been walking slower that I thought? It was possible, especially when I was daydreaming. I looked around, trying to make out landmarks. The sky was lightening quickly in the East. I had to check the dark areas of the horizon before they faded into the bland nothingness that happens before the sun finally brightens everything enough to allow a person to distinguish things. To the South, it had already gotten light enough to hide the lights from Mainside. To the West, the Chocolate Mountains were where they were supposed to be. There was nothing to see to the North. To the East, the horizon was flat, except for that low ridge a bit toward the South. Hold on, what ridge toward the South?  That wasn’t right; it should be flat all the way to the mountains where Big Bear was! And from what I could make out, Big Bear was where it should be. It was hard to tell looking toward the backlit portion of the sky. All I could really see looking east was a bunch of silhouettes, but I was not familiar with that small ridgeline. It seemed closer than the rest of the horizon; at least I thought it looked closer. Maybe I needed a little more water to help clear my head. Then I realized what that ridgeline really was, it was the silhouette of the tops our tents! They were right there! I looked hard toward where the tanks should be parked and finally made out the form of an M-60 in the fading darkness! I was home!
I would have run the rest of the way, but my legs would only walk. And as I walked among the tents, I began to feel just how tired I really was! I walked into the Company Headquarters tent, Captain Thompson was talking to Lieutenant Simmons, and both looked at me as I entered. I said, “The batteries were dead, there was no jeep, I saw no enemy and I’m going to hit the rack.” They both just stared at me. I headed toward the tent flap and the lieutenant stopped me. He asked me where I had been. I told him that I had spent the whole day on one of the Hershey’s Kisses like the Captain had ordered. I could tell by the expression on his face that he had not been told of this idea. He dismissed me and told me to wait for him on my cot. As I left I heard the CO mumble, “I forgot”. There were more words being spoken, but I didn’t stick around to eavesdrop. I found my cot and laid my tired self down. I put my head on my dirty laundry bag and cradled my rifle in my arms. I didn’t care; I could have taken a rock and made a comfortable pillow at that point. Just as I was almost asleep the lights came on. Lieutenant Simmons walked to my bunk and asked if I was alright. I started to get up but he stopped me. I told him that I probably had blisters on my feet but I was okay otherwise. By now everyone else in the tent was awake and listening to the conversation.
I was asked to tell what had happened, with as many details as I could. I told my story and everyone listened. I told about the A-4s dropping ordinance and finding that both batteries were dead. I told of how I waited and then decided to walk when the jeep didn’t show up. The XO asked who drove me out. A voice back in the tent answered, “I did, but the Captain never told me to go back, I thought someone else did.” I continued talking about the walk itself and hearing the .50 caliber behind me. It turned out that it had been 2nd Platoon; they were parked under camouflage netting tents only a half mile from the trail! I finished by telling about how I found the tents. Everyone was silent; they were all shocked by what they heard. It wasn’t about how far or how long the walk was, they were shocked by the fact that the CO had sent me out there and then simply forgot about me! No one else knew where I was, I was basically just left to die. That was a sobering thought! Lieutenant Simmons knew that I was from Wisconsin, so he asked where I had learned my desert survival skills. I told him that I had only been out for about twenty-four hours, but I had completed the Marine Corps Institute course on Desert Operations and had read plenty of Louis L'Amour western novels. So I had some idea of what I was up against. I told him that I had extra water with me and shade all day long. He asked if I needed to see a Corpsman. I answered, “No”. Then he asked if I was up to some breakfast, I must need the energy. I said that all I really needed was some sleep. I would eat lunch and walk my post on guard duty after dinner. I thought he was going to choke! He had the craziest expression when I said that! I am a Marine and will walk my post as assigned. He wanted to know if I was angry. I told him, “No, everyone makes mistakes.”
How prophetic those words were! Less than six months later, a Marine died at 29 Palms. I never got all of the details, but he had been given the same assignment I had on the same little mountain. And like me, he was forgotten. He did not have the amount of water that I had, nor the shade. He had waited until morning to walk back. He was found less than a mile from Mainside; he had been able to see the buildings before he died. Everyone makes mistakes, and a mistake in the Marine Corps can mean that someone dies. It does not have to be a combat situation to be deadly. I am not saying that I lived because I was a better Marine physically. On the contrary, if he was a grunt he was probably stronger than I was. I was just better prepared for the situation. And for that I say, “Thank you Louis L’Amour!”

Book Review: I will acknowledge first and foremost that I am a pretty conservative guy. One of my personal heroes has been President Ronald Reagan. Edward “Jack” Dinse wrote a book about his four years in the Marine Corp during the Reagan years of the 80’s. It is a fascinating account of a boy from Wisconsin becoming not only a man, but a US Marine! The title is “Every Day a Holiday, Every Meal a Feast”, is published by my brother and is available at or link to his blog below. 
At over 400 pages, it’s reasonably priced at $17 for soft cover and $6 for eBook.  It’s a very good read!
Russ Bridger's Book Publishing Blog
Also available at Amazon as a Kindle purchase at the link below. Amazon Prime members read for free!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mob History and Ghosts at Madison's Wonder Bar Steakhouse

The 85-year-old Wonderbar Steakhouse in Madison was a mob
hangout for many years. It was built by Roger "The Terrible"
Touhy and run by his brother Eddie, who disappeared in
the 1950s.
Brian E. Clark
Article thanks to Brian E. ClarkSpecial to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Links provided:
Oct 31, 2014  In the late 1920s, Chicago gangster and Al Capone rival Roger "The Terrible" Touhy was making bucket loads of money from his bootlegging and gambling operations on the northwest side of Chicago. Some sources say he was making an impressive $1 million a year by 1926.
To help out his bartender brother, Eddie, as well as launder illicit earnings and get booze into Wisconsin, the Irish-American mob boss and his sibling built a small, castle-like restaurant — complete with turrets — on a dirt road on the outskirts of Madison.
They dubbed the place on E. Olin Ave. Eddie's Wonder Bar, and it gained a reputation as a gangster hangout that served good meals and drinks. In addition to locals, it also entertained the likes of John Dillinger, Capone, Baby Face Nelson and other gangsters. In the '70s, it was a gathering place for politicians and University of Wisconsin-Madison heavyweights such as football hero and former athletic director Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch.
The Wonder Bar Steakhouse continues to serve patrons today. And while the area has grown up around it, the ivy clad brick building — complete with the original back bar — looks much as it did in the 1930s. Moreover, it serves steaks popular 80 years ago, including porterhouse, sirloin and T-bone cuts. (The latter two sold for $1 and 75 cents respectively, according to a 1934 menu.)
Better still, for those who believe in such things, the restaurant is said to have ghosts.
Shawn Bortz, Wonder Bar chef for the past six years, said the restaurant has had other names in years past, including the Cigar Box, M.O.B. and The Bar Next Door. In the old days, it was often under surveillance by the FBI and had removable sections in the turrets through which the mobsters could poke their Tommy guns. No shootouts were recorded at the place.
"The gangsters came here to escape the 'heat' on their way up north and to stash money," he said. "They also gambled and did other things, both legal and illegal. And while no one was ever said to be killed here, the story is that Eddie, who disappeared in the 1950s, may be buried behind the second-floor fireplace. We also think some nasty stuff might have taken place in the basement — 'corrections' and that sort of thing."
Bortz said the Wonder Bar also had a tunnel that ran toward Lake Monona that was used to smuggle booze and help the racketeers escape from "G-men and other cops who were on their tail." The Touhy brothers were the sons of an honest Chicago cop who had six boys, Bortz said. Many of them became involved in organized crime, and some were killed by Capone hit-men.
The 93-seat restaurant has dark paneling, which manager Rick Shuffle said may be original. A portrait of a voluptuous and scantily clad redhead hangs over the downstairs fireplace, perhaps a niece of the Touhy brothers, Shuffle said.
The painting is 60 years old, and the young woman, who looks to be about 25, is said to haunt the restaurant.
Equally popular is the 1938 police booking photograph of a young Frank Sinatra. It was taken in his hometown of Hoboken, N.J. The ticket shows he was arrested for "seduction," which means he was busted while having an affair with a married woman, Shuffle said.
Bar manager Jason Kiley said the specter of a man wearing a 1930s-era Fedora hat and a trenchcoat has been seen standing at the top of the stairs, as well as a young girl. They're not certain about her connection to the place.
Bortz said he's heard the young girl laugh. And once, when he was alone in the basement, he said, he heard a heavy door slam near him, causing him to flee upstairs.
Bortz said his menu focuses on steaks and seafood. His favorite meal is the cowboy steak, a 23-ounce cut with the bone in it. Another popular dish is the Chilean sea bass with a banana curry served with sweet potato shoestrings. In season, he said, the halibut served with a garlic panko crust is a winner.
Cooking at the Wonder Bar is something of a family affair, too, Bortz said. His mother, Elizabeth Bortz, prepares all of the restaurant's desserts. Bortz said she makes a mean cheesecake, chocolate torte and creme brulee.
Though Eddie disappeared in the mid-1950s, Roger lived until 1959. He was convicted — wrongly, Kiley said — of kidnapping John "Jake the Barber" Factor, a sibling of cosmetics mogul Max Factor. Roger was sentenced to 99 years in prison in 1934 but escaped from the Stateville Correctional Center in 1942. He was arrested by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover several months later in Chicago after robbing an armored car of $14,000. He was sentenced to an additional 199 years at Stateville for the escape and robbery.
He was finally released on parole in 1959, 25 years after he was first incarcerated. It's not known if he ever made it back to the Wonder Bar. He was shot and killed 22 days after he got out of prison on the doorstep of his sister's Windy City home.
Though Capone had been dead for 12 years, his "associates" were blamed for the hit. On his way to a hospital, the dying man told a reporter from a Chicago newspaper: "I've been expecting it. The bastards never forget!"
Getting there: The Wonder Bar Steakhouse is at 222 E. Olin Ave. off John Nolen Blvd. near the Alliant Energy Center. Madison is roughly 80 miles west of Milwaukee via Interstate 94 and Highway 12.
More information: Call (608) 256-9430 or see the restaurant website at
For the scoop on other things to see and do in and around the capital city, see the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau at
Brian E. Clark is a Madison writer and photographer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Q & A with a Trucking Defense Attorney

Article thanks to Deborah Lockridge and Links provided:

Q&A: Bill Chamblee, Trucking Defense Attorney

Are you doing everything you can to prevent lawsuits?

Aug, 2014  Dallas-based Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson is a legal firm defending trucking companies against lawsuit stemming from traffic accidents. Earlier this year, Bill Chamblee successfully defended FFE Transportation in a $3.5 million lawsuit after an accident between a company truck and a police car. He's been doing transportation litigation defense work for 26 years. We spoke with him about trends he's seeing in the realm of legal issues affecting motor carriers.

HDT: Tell me about some of your recent success stories defending trucking clients.
Chamblee: The most recent victory I had was a case for FFE that involved a tractor-trailer rig that was approaching an intersection at night and was crossing under a flashing yellow light. There was an emergency police vehicle responding to a call and running sirens and lights that ran through a red light and into our truck. The police officer was significantly injured and the lawsuit involved an issue of whether or not the police officer running under lights has right of way to enter that intersection or whether we were negligent in failing to yield. We were successful; the jury found no negligence on the part of our driver.

HDT: Do you see any trends in legal cases against trucking firms?
Chamblee: The truth of it is, trucking litigation hasn't changed that much in 25 years. For the most part you see the same cases, the same claims and the same issues.
There are now federal agencies that monitor and grade trucking companies, and you can find that information now online. Plaintiffs' lawyers are starting to use that online information in their cases. That's probably the most recent change.
The hours of service regulations have been altered and changed. Probably the biggest issue in transportation litigation that comes up over and over again is the issue of logbook violations, as well as the download information you can get off these trucks.
If you were to make a list of the things that plaintiffs' attorneys will immediately go look for in litigation that involves truck crashes, they look at log books. And they will get all the download information that you can obtain now, which used to you couldn't obtain. They'll look at hard braking, at the speed of the vehicles, and they are comparing that download information to the actual logbook to determine whether the logbook accurately represents the driver's actions.
For instance, I had in a case two trials ago, where the download information you can get off Qualcomm and ECM data showed the truck was in fact on the road, in motion and moving in a city different than the driver's log book recorded at that time where the truck was at – 400 miles from that spot. They tried to use that data to say you cannot rely on the logbook at all to determination ether the driver was "fatigued" at the time of the accident – they claimed the accident was the result of fatigue and failure to respond to something in the road. What I did was tell the jury, 'Let's just look at the data off the truck,' and he wasn't violating HOS in terms of driving time.

HDT: How do you think the expanding use and even mandate of electronic logs will affect this?
Chamblee: Right now electronic log books still require the driver to input some data into the system. If the truck's stopped you can't tell whether the driver is actually on duty or in the sleeper berth. So even on electronic logbooks you still have the question of whether the driver takes the time to correctly input the data. But ELDs will clear up some of the issue of logbook discrepancies vs. the data on the truck.

HDT: Speaking of technology, what about various types of safety technologies such as collision avoidance, lane departure warning, etc.?
Chamblee: That's a really good point that has come up in lawsuits recently. For instance, backup cameras is something that comes up – they're not standard in the industry at all and not mandated by the federal government, but plaintiffs' lawyers in backing incidents will ask the question.
You used to not hear that question a few years ago. Devices have been mandated on new cars so the question becomes, why are they not standard in trucking? The way you deal with that in litigation at the present moment is you file motions with the court asking that the plaintiffs be prohibited from inquiring of any witness as to whether or not such safety devices were used by the trucking company. The argument is they're not industry standard, they're not federally regulated or mandated, and that information only serves to prejudice the jury. And I've been successful in keeping it out.

HDT: As what point does something become considered an industry standard?
Chamblee: One way is it's mandated by federal government or by state governments. The other way is that enough trucking companies in the industry start utilizing it that anyone looks at anyone who's not doing it and says, it's wrong that you're not doing it. If the majority of the industry has seen the benefit of it and is utilizing it, that makes it an industry standard.
Every time someone talks about implementing some new safety measure, all those matters over the last 50 years that have been instituted in the trucking industry have not curbed the amount or volume of litigation. It simply creates new and different arguments for plaintiffs' lawyers to make. The issue will become maintenance of the device, or why did the truck not respond to it – there will always be an issue.
Lawsuits do not set the standard; they determine whether you deviated from the standard already set. The jury doesn't set the standard.

HDT: What are some of the most common things you see in truck suits?
Chamblee: I've found the vast, vast majority of all cases against a transportation company for a personal injury really do not involved the negligence of the company or the driver, and if correctly handled, the driver and co should be successful in 90% of them. They are brought simply because there is an injured person on the other side and because a trucking company is an attractive target in litigation.

HDT: What advice do you have for trucking companies?
Chamblee: The first thing you do to avoid a lawsuit to the extent possible: you must have a good safety program. The safer your program, the more conscientious your drivers and safety directors and risk managers, the less incidences and accidents you have, the less litigation, plain and simple. It sounds rhetorical but it's abundantly true.
Secondly, if the accident is one of any significance -- and the difficult thing about saying that is you might think it's of no significance until a plaintiff's lawyer files a lawsuit a year and a half later -- I would argue that in almost any accident that involves any potential injury at all, you should:
1. Preserve all data. Do not discard logbooks after six months for a driver that's been involved in an accident, even though federal motor carrier regulationss only require six months. I promise you if you do not have those logbooks, someone's going to claim that you destroyed them on purpose.
2. Download all available data you can get off the truck and retain it.
3. Contact your lawyer immediately upon the occurrence of an accident so that you and your attorney can decide the best way to go about preserving evidence and investigating the accident.
4. If the accident is significant to any degree, take the time and effort to have a reconstructionist go to the scene early on to preserve the evidence at the scene.
5. Even if you've had an accident where you determine that your driver may be at fault, there is always still an honorable and truthful way to defend a potential lawsuit. It may be that you only aggressively defend it from a damage standpoint because the plaintiffs will want more money.
Everybody at the scene is going to claim some degree of injury or damage. Start collecting information – how much damage was there actually? Have a biomechanical engineer get involved early on to talk about the transference of force so you can establish that the amount of force is not enough to cause the degree of injury they may claim. The key to being a good lawyer in defending a transportation company is that every case has a truth in it. It may be no liability, may be no causation (you caused the wreck but not the damage).

HDT: What mistakes do you see trucking firms make during legal proceedings?
Chamblee: One, as I mentioned earlier, they have not retained the logbooks. This comes up all the time, they get rid of them after six months.
Two, determining the preventability or nonpreventability of accidents. Trucking companies are so quick to rule an accident as preventable, when it fact it was not as it applies to the driver. Preventable in the industry is not the same as liability, but in a jurors' mind it is. So I tell people, be more cautious about determining preventability.
The handful of companies that I work really closely with, they have an approach to that, fully in keeping with the spirit of federal regulations, that is much more fine tuned and accurate than it was years ago.

HDT: What's the key to winning a trucking case?
Chamblee: I represent many different industries, and there are certain industries where I start off with a jury pool that has a psychological outlook about my defendant which is positive, like a doctor. But in the transportation world, that psychological bent works against the transportation company. You've got to help the jury understand that [that prejudice] exists in their mind, and the reason for that existence is not real or legitimate as it applies to this case.
Once you level that playing field psychologically with the jury, they are in the mindset to decide the case without prejudice. And that's how you win transportation cases.
Dallas trial lawyer Bill Chamblee has had more than 130 court victories on behalf of his clients during his 28-year legal career. The managing partner of Dallas-based Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson, he handles a wide variety of complex commercial litigation, including defending transportation firms and medical professionals.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Mobbed Up - Giovanni (John) DiBella and Wisconsin's Grande Cheese

Retlaw Hotel
Excellent story thanks to Stan Gores and the Fond Du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Story was published Saturday, March 12, 1966. Links provided:
DiBella Lived At Hotel, Headed Grande Cheese Firm, Meetings With Bonanno Kept Him In Spotlight 
Two months before his 18th birthday in 1908, Giovanni "John" Vincenzo DiBella, a native of Montelepre in the Province of Palermo in Sicily, made his first trip to the United States. He apparently liked what he found. There were more than a half dozen journeys after that and, always, he seemed to be doing at least moderately well. Born June 24. 1890, John DiBella came from a family of eight, with four brothers and three sisters, most of whom also settled in this country. They even established a business, called DiBella Bros. Co., Inc., in Brooklyn, N.Y., importing and exporting Italian food products. During his early years in the United States, DiBella listed his occupation as a "peddler." On later occasions, however, he would be classified as an olive oil and cheese broker in Palermo, a grocery and business management representative, a salesman and buyer, a businessman, a factory manager, an executive, and manager of the Grande Cheese Co. -- a firm that had its beginning in Illinois in 1941 but moved its headquarters to 1 S. Main St. in Fond du Lac in 1949. Not many people in Fond du Lac got to know DiBella closely during his years as a resident at the Retlaw Hotel, but those who met him liked his friendly, gentlemanly manner. He was not a big man, standing only 5' 6" and carrying well over 200 pounds. He was full-faced, with ruddy complexion, and his dark brown eyes looked out from under heavy brows and once- black hair now streaked with gray. Most persons didn't notice it, but he had a scar on his right eyebrow. His speech was described as "broken English" by those not fluent in Italian. There was a "mystery" about John DiBella. He was a man whose record showed no arrests, yet he was listed in rather extensive detail in police files across the nation.
 Linked With Bonanno
He had been linked repeatedly with Joseph (Joe Bananas) Bonanno, regarded as one of the kingpins in the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra underworld. What's more, Bonanno's wife, Faye, was a minor stockholder in the Grande Cheese Co. Bonanno sometimes came to visit him at the hotel, and on occasions reportedly even used his name. (Dan's Note: As Gay Talese wrote in his book (Honor Thy Father) about the fall of the Bonanno family, Joe's son Bill, needing a car to drive down to Phoenix, just went to Grande Cheese and "borrowed" one.) So what sort of man was John DiBella? Was he the polite, charming naturalized (1951) American citizen many saw him to be? Or was he, as some police investigators claimed, the Cosa Nostra's "cheese man" in Wisconsin? Did he have knowledge of four, or six, former Grande Cheese affiliates who were murdered in brutal gangland style? Or was this all a confusing web of falsehoods in which the amiable DiBella found himself strangely entangled, simply because he knew Bonanno?
Joe Bonanno, allegedly one of the kingpins in the Cosa Nostra underworld organization occasionally visited the late John DiBella in Fond du Lac. Bonanno resided in Arizona , where he owned considerable real estate. Police in New York and throughout the nation have been trying to find him since 1964, the year DiBella died. DiBella wasn't a man who talked much about himself. But on one occasion, Al Olson, manager of the hotel, approached DiBella and asked him, point blank, how it was possible that so many seemed to assume he was "mixed up in that sort of thing." DiBella's answer was short. "They're trying to smear my name," he said. So to understand DiBella, you have to look into records, talk to people who knew him, read what was written about him and then try to put the pieces together. When you do this it's like working on a human jigsaw puzzle. Records reveal that on at least one occasion, long ago, DiBella was listed as having a Fond du Lac address of 2554 Lewis St. There is no such address--but there is a warehouse at 254 Lewis St. So you give DiBella the benefit of the doubt and figure that perhaps the warehouse once served as a storage area for his company or that, through speech difficulties, the street number was recorded erroneously. When he moved into the Hotel Retlaw he didn't have that problem.
Another Of Same Name
You also discover that another DiBella has lived in Fond du Lac. He is Joseph DiBella, John's nephew, according to the records. Joseph has been associated with the Grande Cheese Co. and the Gourmay Cheese Co. of Lomira. There also have been reports that Bonanno has sold cheese for Gourmay. The addresses listed for Joseph are 14 Doty St. and 13 S. Maim St. There is evidence that John DiBella in 1928 had some minor difficulty with immigration authorities. A letter at that time, signed by DiBella, indicates he had married an American woman and they had become parents of a child. There is a later record that refers to a phone call having been made by a "daughter." Yet on other documents DiBella is listed as unmarried, with no children. And on the day he died his obituary said he never married. DiBella's last trip to Italy ended in 1940, when he returned, as a visitor, to the United States. He brought with him 30 cases of cheese, with Detroit, Mich, serving as his port of entry. A study of a state police report reveals that DiBella was believed to have had a primary interest in the Grande Cheese Co. dating to 1941. The next two years, during which time he also appears to have acquired a Fond du Lac address, he was a salesman working on commission for Grande while also keeping busy as a salesman, manager and buyer for DiBella Bros, of Brooklyn. His average weekly wage was about $115.
Firm's Purpose Outlined
Thereafter DiBella seems even more closely identified with Grande. The firm's purpose, according to articles of incorporation filed on Oct. 21, 1944, was to "own, lease and manage dairies, dairy farms and creameries, and to engage in the business of manufacturing, distribution, and shipping cheese, milk, cream, butter and milk products and by-products of all kinds, as well as machinery and equipment used in connection with the foregoing." Capital stock at this time was listed at $50,000, with 1,000 shares offered at $50 each. For a number of years later, however, the annual report of the company showed "the corporation has not held its first meeting" and that no stock had been issued and no officers elected. In 1945. when he reportedly was making about S400 monthly from Grande Cheese. DiBella sought an extension on his temporary permit to remain in the United Stales. He became a naturalized American citizen on Nov. 28, 1951. in Milwaukee. DiBella and Bonanno invested in an Arizona real estate contract on April 1, 1955. The property was said to involve between 175 to 200 acres of undeveloped land in the Tucson area, where Bonanno was living. In the summer of 1959 Bonanno visited Wisconsin. Police said he conferred with DiBella in "both Milwaukee and Fond du Lac." On one occasion, while at the Retlaw Hotel to see DiBella, the well dressed, smiling Bonanno was pointed out to an employe as having been connected with the underworld, "Oh, no," the astonished employee replied, "not Mr. Bonanno!" By 1959, however, DiBella found his relationship with Bonanno and others had brought him sharply into police focus. He reportedly was questioned in a Los Angeles Grand Jury probe on Jan. 23, 1959 and in a Phoenix, Ariz, investigation Jan. 6, 1960. But business for the Grande Cheese Co. was good. In 1959 one source claimed the firm grossed $735,000, of which $68,775 was in Wisconsin. It has been estimated that more than 90 million pounds of Italian cheese were being produced annually in the state, with mozzarella one of the fast movers because of the national pizza craze.
President Of Company
In 1960 John DiBella was president of Grande, with AI J. Caruso, a former Madison resident, serving as vice president. DiBella, Caruso, and Rose DiBella of Brooklyn served on the board of directors. During the same year DiBella headed Cloverdale Dairy of Fair Water, Gourmay JOE VALACHI made the Cosa Nostra a household expression in 1963 when he testified on TV before a Senate investigating committee. His mention of Joe Bonanno touched off news stories in Wisconsin on Bonanno's visits to this state. allegedly said he hadn't anticipated the "sudden termination of hostilities," meaning World War II, and added that he needed time to settle business matters before going back to Sicily. As thing*; developed, he neier went back. He became Cheese of Lomira, and was connected with the Kohlsville Cheese Co. of Kohlsville. It was claimed that Grande also had a connection with Valley Cheese Co. of Los Angeles. On May 22, J862 Leroy Sommers of Fond du Lac, owner of the Full Cream Cheese Co. of Malone, was found dead with the exhaust hose piped into his partly burned car. The death was ruled a suicide, but his wife Amy, with Peter Porath serving as her lawyer, later said she believed he had been murdered. Five weeks after burial, the body of Sommers was removed from its grave at Rienzi Cemetery and a post mortem confirmed carbon monoxide fumes as the cause of death. Mrs. Sommers started legal proceedings to collect on her insurance policy -- an action that meant the difference between $4,476 or payment of more than $190,000. A court ruling was shoved back to 1963. On Jan. 23,1963 former Gov. John Reynolds charged publicly that organized crime had invaded the cheese industry in Wisconsin. Called upon to produce evidence, he cited the gangland slaymgs of four men once associated with Grande. Later two other names were added. The six included: . Tom Neglia: Shot to death Dec. 6, 1943 while being shaved in a barber chair. Back in 1940, according to one informant , he frequently played golf in Fond du Lac and later became affiliated with Grande. James DeAngelo: On March 11, 1944 police found his body stuffed in the luggage compartment of his car. Sam Gervase: Slain in 1944 in his refrigerator repair shop. On the night of the murder, he allegedly had as guests at his home Fred Romano and wife. Romano, a Chicago attorney, was the first president of the Grande Cheese firm. Onofrio Vitale: His trussed body was found in a sewer not far from the home of Vmce Beneiento in Chicago in April of 1945. He reportedly had been a $5,000 a year cheesemaker for Grande. Vince Benevento: He was shot five times in front of his place of business in September of 1946. He was identified as being in the "Chicago cheese ring" and also was said to have been a former partner of Neglia and Angelo i the Grande Co. Nick Dejohn: Murdered gangland style in San Francisco in 1947. His body was found in the trunk of his car. A week after Reynolds had fired his blast, federal narcotics agents, spurred by the Sommers controversy, said they were going to investigate dope shipments reportedly made in Italian cheese coming from the Fond du Lac County area. In less than three days, however, the investigation was dropped, with agents admitting there was no evidence.
Walks To Safety Building
With suspicion beamed at the Grande firm, DiBella maintained his law-abiding image by walking into the Fond du Lac Safety Building on Feb. 1, 1963, announcing he was willing to open the company's records to inspection. All he requested was that an attorney accompany him on the prescribed date. On Feb. 13 he was back again, along with Atty. Dominic Frinzi of Milwaukee (Dan's Note: Frinzi was Milwaukee mob boss Frank Balistrieri's attorney and represented many of Milwaukee's mafia figures.) and Caruso. A closed door meeting with Fond du Lac District Atty. Thomas Massey and LeRoy Dalton of the state attorney general's office, plus Fond du Lac law enforcement authorities, was held on the second floor. This meeting, according to some newspaper reports, resulted in the "opening" of the Grande Cheese Co. records. Massey and Dalton both deny that the records were presented for scrutiny. Both also tried to pry information from DiBella on his relationship with Bonanno and the men who had been murdered. DiBella insisted he didn't know the men who had been slain. What's more, he said he was there to discuss the business of Grande Cheese, not his personal relationships. Occasionally, DiBella and Frinzi exchanged comments in Italian. The session was said later was translated. While the meeting received widespread publicity, it accomplished little and no photographs were taken. The public was informed that no evidence of criminal activity could be found involving DiBella or Grande Cheese. It seemed for awhile as though things would calm down. However, on March 22, 1963 Mrs. Sommers accepted a $30,000 settlement from her husband's insurance company while admitting that she had no real proof that he had been murdered. The Sommers case did not implicate anyone, but the publicity it received exerted a steady pressure on Fond du Lac County elements of the Italian cheese industry. It so happened that 1963 also was the year that Joe Valachi, the one time Cosa Nostra member, decided to tell all. Among those he named in October was Bonanno, referring to him as a "godfather" in the underworld organization. This resulted in immediate revival of Bonanno's ties with the Wisconsin cheese industry, and his relationship with DiBella. A narcotics agent charged that Bonanno had used the cheese industry as a front for dope traffic.
'No Evidence'
Fond du Lac law enforcement officials again were called upon to make public statements that "there was nothing" in regard to visits Bonanno made to Fond du Lac. But for aging John DiBella, then 73, the spotlight never dimmed again. One man who knew him, and was aware of the insinuations that surrounded his business career, said he just seemed "like a nice old guy." Another claimed he was "one of the nicest men I've ever met." Former Police Chief James D. Cahill and present Chief Harold Rautenberg both had similar views. "You can't convict a man because of his friends," Chief Rautenberg explained. "A man is innocent until proven guilty." There was no legally acceptable proof that DiBella was anything other than what he appeared to be -- an elderly businessman living at a Fond du Lac hotel and who never did anything for which he could be arrested. But time was running out for DiBella. On Sept. I, 1964 he died, the victim of a heart attack. On the day of his funeral, plainclothesmen from Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, the FBI, federal narcotics bureau, and local law departments were in attendance. Cameras clicked and notes were taken. Ordinarily, a "marching" procession is held at Italian funerals. In DiBella's case that was called off. Instead, a motorized procession was held following services at St. Mary's Church. Then the body was taken to Milwaukee for shipment to New York. From there, DiBella went home -- by ship -- as he had come from his beloved Montelepre as a youth in 1908. In his will he made it clear that he wanted to be buried in Montelepre's Roman Catholic Cemetery. Moreover, he left $3,000 for perpetual care of the DiBella family plot and to "have masses celebrated for the repose of my soul and the souls of the faithful de-parted at least once each month." Yet even in death, DiBella remains tangled in controversy. Because of his residency in Wisconsin, an inheritance tax conflict has erupted, with the state of New York. When he died he was living in Fond du Lac. But his will lists his home at 8715 Chevy Chase St., Jamaica, Queens County, New York.
Claims Filed
One of his brothers, Guiseppe, has filed a claim of $788,497 on DiBella's will. The executrix and chief beneficiary Rose DiBella, has filed a claim for $27,800. It now seems likely that the will -- which also stipulated a total of $2,000 for each of two orphanages in Montelepre -- will be tied up for a considerable time. A man who got to know DiBella quite well told the writer that the late Grande Cheese Co. executive "received undue publicity right up to the time they buried him." He added that newspapers n e v e r said anything "about the good people he knew," always playing up his association with Bonanno. While DiBella admittedly knew Bonanno, the man explained, "he didn't associate with him." Strangely, there is another, added bit of irony. Joe Bonanno has beem missing since Oct. 21, 1964 when, he was hustled into a car on Park Avenue in New York City on the eve of his scheduled appearance before a Federal Grand Jury. His attorney, William P. Maloney, who was with him at the time, said Bonanno was kidnaped. Later he indicated that Bonanno is alive, but still hasn't been found. Federal officials are skeptical. In the meantime, investigation into Bonanno's life, according to the New York Times, has revealed that he "rules over a larger empire of crime than had been previously known." The investigations continue. But John DiBella sleeps fore v e r in the graveyard at Montelepre. --
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