Tragedy propels local woman to fight increased truck weight allowances
Jane Mathis lost son, daughter-in-law in 2004 crash
Posted: February 5, 2012 – 12:51am
By George Bortle. The Associated Press
David and Mary Mathis were killed on the way back from their honeymoon, on March 25, 2004, after their car was hit from behind by a semi-truck, causing a chain reaction with another truck on I-95 near Titusville.
David Mathis was a jokester with a mischievous smile, an intern with a local law firm and a man married just five days when a truck rolled over his 1993 Acura, killing him and his bride, Mary Kathryn Forbes.
Both 23, they had graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and had just bought a house in Royal St. Augustine, said Jane Mathis of St. Augustine, David’s mother.
It was that March, 2004, crash on Interstate 95, caused when a semi-trailer truck driver who fell asleep behind the wheel, that prompted Mathis to fight for legislative changes.
“Most loved ones can’t (become activists),” Mathis said. “It’s too painful; they just can’t.”
Most recently, she traveled to the U.S. Capitol to lobby against a House bill that would have allowed trucks to get bigger and heavier and, to Mathis and other safety advocates, that much more dangerous.
The committee Friday morning amended the bill in what a representative for U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation committee, called an “intense markup session” that lasted until 3:30 a.m.
Now the 700-page omnibus bill, called the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, no longer would allow states to increase the weight cap.
Mica said the language disappeared mostly due to rail interests, not safety advocates.
“The freight train operators, if you have heavier weights, they don’t get the business to go on rail,” Mica said.
The amendment also calls for a study to examine how the increased caps would impact safety and infrastructure.
But Mathis still worries that the bill could change again, especially since it is very different from the Senate version, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, MAP21 for short.
The House is to vote on the bill during the week of Feb. 13, said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for Mica.
Activism as an outlet
It took Mathis a couple of years to heal before she began looking for ways to make a difference.
Then, a friend suggested she join PATT, Parents Against Tired Trucking.
Now, she is a board member of the national Parents Against Tired Trucking and a part of the Truck Safety Coalition.
“It’s a club nobody wants to belong to,” she said.
In the past, she has lobbied for an increase in fines for those driving rigs overweight by 10,000 or more pounds and for those falsifying the paper log books that truckers must keep to show they are not driving more hours per day than allowed.
The fines haven’t increased since 1953, “When Eisenhower was in office,” she said.
That went nowhere.
But still, she keeps trying because David Mathis is always on her mind.
“I miss him every hour of every day,” she said.
She misses his 6-foot-1-inch frame bouncing on her bed and saying, “Hi, Mommy!”
And she likes to remember a particular sermon he gave to the youth at church.
“He was talking about how you should do things to show you have joie de vivre,” Mathis said.
“So he crowed like a chicken in the pulpit, and there was a giant burst of laughter,” she said.
The eerie thing for Mathis is that her son, a youth pastor at Memorial Presbyterian Church, came straight from senior prom night to give the sermon in the morning.
It was called “Forever Young,” she said with a shiver.
“I’m lucky to have had 23 years with him,” she said. “Some people never have children at all.”
ABOUT THE TRANSPORTATION BILL
The newly amended version of the U.S. House Bill called the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act would have increased the truck weight cap from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds.
Justin Harclerode, spokesman for Transportation Committee Chair John Mica, R-Fla., said the provisions were considered because they might have provided “economic benefits for commerce, things like that, efficiency.”
And he said there are safety arguments on both sides of the debate, because an Interstate ban on larger trucks in some states would have those trucks driving on local roads instead.
“And some folks would say it’s safer to have that kind of traffic on an interstate,” he said.
Now the bill requires a three-year study to assess what the impact of those changes would be to safety and infrastructure.
The study plus an anticipated lag before Congress votes on a final version reassure local truck safety advocate Jane Mathis.
However, “It’s up in the air,” Mathis said. “There’s a possibility those provisions could come back.”
“What we hope will happen is nothing,” Mathis said. “We just keep fighting away.”