County road worker dismissed due to accident

BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Posted 12/1/15

The Bradley County Road Department employee who last drove a truck before it backed over two other employees has been terminated from his position at the department.

James Droke was terminated …

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County road worker dismissed due to accident

Posted

The Bradley County Road Department employee who last drove a truck before it backed over two other employees has been terminated from his position at the department.

James Droke was terminated from his position on Nov. 5, following a department internal investigation into the Aug. 3 accident which led to the amputation of both legs of an employee.

That employee was Debra Norton Jenkins, who is also the sister of Road Superintendent Sandra Knight Collins.

Another employee, Ted Dobbs, was with Jenkins in a raised garden and was also hit by the truck, but suffered no reported severe injuries.

As reported in Sunday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner, an investigation by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the department to have committed a “serious” violation, citing a failure “to provide employees with the necessary safety training required before operating a motor vehicle and [finding the department] failed to protect employees from the recognized hazards associated with small dump trucks or similar medium-duty trucks.”

The county was notified of the violation on Sept. 10, after which the department reported it had purchased chocks to be placed in all department vehicles for use behind tires when the vehicles are parked.

The department also received training from the Bradley County EMA on Oct. 12 on “How To Park A Vehicle.”

TOSHA closed the case on Oct. 13.

During the investigation, Droke gave a statement of events saying he did not remember if he had applied the parking gear when he came in for lunch, but noted the truck was in gear when it was parked in front of the department garage.

Droke stated he did not remember in which gear he had left the truck.

A series of five tests was performed on the truck’s braking system on Aug. 4 by Hank Plain, TOSHA representative and investigator, and an unidentified employee.

The tests were as documented by TOSHA:

- Engine off, emergency brake applied, vehicle in 1st gear. Vehicle didn’t move when force was applied to the front of the vehicle.

- Engine off with gear in neutral, emergency brake applied. Vehicle didn’t move.

- Engine off, emergency brake not applied, vehicle in 1st gear. Vehicle rolled approximately 11 inches then stopped.

- Engine on, emergency brake applied, vehicle in neutral. Vehicle didn’t move.

- Engine on, emergency brake applied, in 1st gear. The clutch was slowly released. Engine started to stall out. Vehicle moved approximately 2-3 inches. Once the clutch was released, the vehicle stopped.

“After performing the brake test, I concluded that the vehicle’s emergency brake performed as it should, similar to other vehicles with properly working emergency brakes,” Plain wrote in his report.

That conclusion led to the group of supervisors at the road department making the decision Droke had broken policy through negligence.

According to a letter sent to Droke from BCRD Supervisor of Operations Lisa Bowling, all of the department’s supervisors met on Nov. 4 to discuss the accident, noting all of the reports from TOSHA and the insurance company had been reviewed.

“Due to the fact they could not find anything wrong with the vehicle’s brakes, parking brake nor any other mechanical reason for the vehicle to have rolled, it has therefore been determined that you were negligent when you left the vehicle,” the letter reads.

“With this being a negligent act, as described in our Personnel Handbook, I have no other recourse than to terminate you effective today,” Bowling wrote. “I hope you realize this has been a long process of checking and re-checking these reports to make sure we have all the facts.”

Bowling signed both the letter and the “employee warning report.”

The supervisors listed as participating in making the decision were Bowling; Gloria Hayes, administrative assistant; Assistant Road Superintendent Robert Combs; Garage Supervisor Chris Ballard; and Herman Holcomb, assistant supervisor of operations/inspector.

According to the documents provided by the road department, Collins played no part in the accident evaluation or Droke’s termination.

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