As he was traveling west on the Sunrise Highway service road in Bohemia after two on a Friday morning, the highway patrol officer spotted a gasoline tanker truck stopped on the right shoulder of the main road’s eastbound lanes. He drove to the next overpass, got back onto the highway and, with lights flashing for protection, pulled behind the truck. The highway officer was joined by two other officers at the scene.
The truck was still running. The highway officer hopped up the steps next to the driver door. He saw that the driver was asleep at the wheel. He also noticed empty beer cans on the seat and on the floor.
He rapped on the window. It took a while for the driver to come to, but when he did, he revved the engine, reached for the gear shift and tried to pull away. Hanging on to the side mirror supports, the officer pulled his gun, banged it against the window, aimed it at the driver and yelled, “Turn it off!”
The driver relented, and he was pulled from the cab. The officers noted his bloodshot and glassy eyes, slurred speech and a strong scent of an alcoholic beverage. In field sobriety tests, the driver was unsteady on his feet and he told the officers that he was taking the fuel to a gas station further east, in Southampton. He refused three times to take a breath-alcohol test.
When the highway officer looked through the cab, beside the empty cans, he found a time-stamped receipt for a six pack of beer from an Inwood bodega, near where his truck was filled, almost 40 miles away. It meant that in less than an hour, the driver had consumed a full six pack of beer.
The driver’s only statement to the police was that there were 12,000 gallons of gas on the truck, although the 18-wheel tractor trailer truck’s manifest showed only 9200 gallons.
The driver was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, and he was additionally charged with refusing to take a breath-alcohol test and drinking alcohol in a vehicle on the highway.
At arraignment later that day, the driver pleaded not guilty to driving while intoxicated. His bail was set at $20,000 bond or $10,000 cash.
Prosecutors said that the driver had been had been sentenced in 2013 in Staten Island for driving while his was ability impaired. He was then ordered into an alcohol counseling program, to pay a $500 fine, and had his license suspended for 90 days.
Prosecutors also said that his licenses allowed him to drive school buses and hazardous material as well as to drive commercial vehicles across state lines.
The vehicle was impounded for evidence of hazardous material and also for a weight check. The owners of the distribution company, Crown Petroleum Transportation, which declined to comment that day, had hired him two weeks previously as a driver.
One of the many shocked and outraged comments in a local newspaper referred to the tanker truck as being a potential Molotov cocktail.
If it weren’t for the observant officers and their timely actions, the driver’s reckless behavior could have set off an inferno.
I’m so proud of the police officers and especially the highway patrol officer, who happens to be my son, Jonathan Abrams.
Rev 1 / September 9, 2015
-- with additional text from Newsday and the Brookhaven News Herald, March 27, 2015
-- Appeared in Grassroot Reflections Number 37, February 2016
September 2015 Copyright © 2015, Lloyd B. Abrams