Roundup of Recent Criminal Incidents in the Trucking Industry

The trucking industry is one of the most challenging environments for employers to operate, with safety as a primary concern. Not only is there often intense time pressure and short deadlines to meet, but that timing must balance with restrictions on how long drivers can stay behind the wheel. Looking into driving safety records is key, too, as no logistics business owner wants to be responsible for a fatal accident on the roads. However, another major challenge is unique to this industry: drivers are often not under the direct supervision of their employers.

That creates many opportunities for bad actors to commit crimes on the job. A look at recent headlines coming from the trucking industry highlights this fact. Unfortunately, there are still many times when even the strictest safeguards aren’t enough to prevent wrongdoing. Examining these stories and considering how trucking operators may implement better policies and more rigorous oversight is an integral part of improving the process in the wake of such events, especially with an ongoing labor shortage.

Late in May 2022, a criminal case several years in the making came to a sudden end when the defendant died of cancer. The man, Roy Nellsch, faced multiple charges after being arrested in 2019 and charged with the kidnapping and attempted rape of a woman who had been stranded on the side of the highway. Though police could not identify additional victims, evidence indicated that Nellsch was likely a serial offender, abducting women and driving to isolated locations to assault them.

This case is especially challenging, not just because of its heinous details, but because this type of scenario is hard to prevent with background checks for truck drivers. In this situation, Nellsch seems to have been an owner-operator, so there was little oversight of his actions. For a trucking business, however, vetting can’t predict the future. However, some policies, such as GPS tracking of vehicle location, could alert operators to potentially troublesome anomalies.

In Tennessee, two truck drivers became entangled in a disagreement that escalated into a road rage murder. In North Carolina, a trucker driving too fast for the rainy conditions rammed through the side of a bridge, plummeting dozens of feet and causing extensive damage. And in North Dakota, a trucker faces multiple felony charges for molesting children while stopped in the area during work. In all of these cases, the individuals involved did not have a notable prior criminal record that might have prevented their employment. 

Background checks are an excellent filter at the earliest stages of the hiring process—they help employers identify major red flags that could expose them to more immediate liabilities. However, broader workplace policies designed to minimize potential opportunities to cause harm must also be a part of these considerations. 

Ongoing criminal history monitoring, reference checks, and license verifications all have a role to play. So too do policies surrounding drug testing and even driver monitoring—unpopular as it may sometimes be in the industry. As these stories in the news demonstrate, there is serious potential for harm within the industry—and better precautions may mean saving lives.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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