9 Investigates: NC mom fights against fatigued truckers after son's death
9 Investigates Fatigued drivers
By: Sarah Rosario Updated: January 29, 2015 - 1:35 PM
A North Carolina mom is literally pleading for a wakeup call for drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.
It's a mission she's dedicated her life to after her son was killed by a fatigued trucker.
In a 9 Investigation anchor Sarah Rosario takes a closer look at who pays the cost because of others negligence.
On Oct. 24, 2010, Jackie Novak's life changed forever. It was the day her 22-year-old son Chuck Novak and four others were killed in an accident on Interstate 26 in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
Police said it was caused by a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel.
Novak cried as she recalled getting the news from troopers who came to her house.
"They said, ‘Ma'am there's been a terrible accident,’ and I waited for him to tell me what hospital my son was taken to."
Chuck Novack’s girlfriend Theresa Seaver, also known as Terry, died in that crash too.
They were driving back to Hendersonville from a weekend trip to Charlotte.
Police said they were stopped for another wreck when truck driver Roumen Velkov plowed into the line of cars.
Velkov was charged with five counts of involuntary manslaughter, among other charges.
"You never think it's going to be your family. You never think that. Everybody drives by trucks," Novack said.
In an effort to create change Novak joined the Truck Safety Coalition, which works to reduce truck-related crashes.
Last month she and other members went to Washington, D.C., to protest a proposal to let truckers drive for longer hours with fewer breaks.
To their disappointment, Congress approved the proposal, allowing truckers to drive 82 hours a week instead of 70. The law no longer requires truckers to get two nights sleep in a row before starting a work week.
"Some of these people have been fighting for more than 20 years to get changes made. If they had been successful, my son would still be here," Novak said.
Even U.S. Transportation Secretary and former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx spoke against that proposal saying longer hours compromise highway safety.
National Transportation Security Board Chairman Christopher Hart compared fatigued driving to drunk driving, saying truckers run the risk of falling into what's known as a "micro-sleep."
"If you're driving 70 miles per hour and you have a micro-sleep for only three seconds, you've driven a football field," Hart said.
According to AAA, 41 percent of Americans admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel.
In Charlotte, there have been more than 530 crashes involving fatigued drivers in the past three years.
But many in the trucking business say the previous regulations regarding truckers created an unnecessary burden to the industry, and to consumers who depend on their service. Jackie Novak disagrees.
"There's a reason they want less regulation, because they want to be able to do whatever they want. What's most profitable for them, but I don't see my son as collateral damage," said Novak.
Now, with just memories of her son, Novak clings to his pictures, and things he valued. She showed Channel 9 a photo album of moments they spent together, with friends and pictures of Chuck as a child.
Those pictures are all Novak has to show her grandson, who turned 2 just five days after his father died.
Novak has a $1 million lawsuit pending against Velkov, his small trucking company and the shipper.
Velkov is set to get out of prison in March.
"A lot of people talk to me about forgiveness, but I can't. The man who killed five people that night was delivering half a truck load of cookies; and there is nobody in this planet that needed a cookie so badly that my son's life was up for grabs," Novack said.
The rules allowing longer driving hours will be in place until Sept. 30, while the government studies the impact of the amount of trucks on congested roads.
While nothing will bring back her son, Novak hopes her story will make truckers and everyone think before getting on the road tired.
Channel 9 checked with the highway patrol and learned the number of crashes where fatigue was a factor has decreased statewide.
In 2012, there were 417 crashes, in 2013, 392, and just last year that number went down to 334.