ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A judge has cleared a 77-year-old trucker of charges linked to last year’s death of a contractor doing repairs along Interstate 39 in northern Illinois, ruling the hauler drove onto the road’s shoulder out of necessity in heavy traffic.
Lee County Circuit Judge Charles Beckman acquitted Roger Miller, of Grand Ridge, during a bench trial this month on traffic-related charges—including violating construction zone rules with workers present—tied to the March 2012 death of Keith Jakel near Paw Paw, south of Rockford.
Miller’s attorney, Bob Thompson, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Miller—a 25-year commercial hauler—in March of last year was following two other tractor-trailers that obstructed Miller from seeing an arrow truck blocking the right lane ahead, signaling vehicles to merge to the passing lane.
When the two semi rigs suddenly veered left to avoid the arrow truck, that vehicle suddenly came into Miller’s view with little time for him to do anything but swerve onto the freeway’s shoulder, Thompson said.
“When they got out of the way, it presented Roger with nothing but this scene in front of him,” Thompson said. “His traffic to the left was highly congested, and he had a second or two to determine all of this. So he went right onto the paved shoulder. That lane was clear.”
Jakel, 55 and from Highland just east of St. Louis, died at the scene of the work site, which Thompson argued was poorly designated.
The charges Miller faced were only punishable by fines and not jail time, though pleading guilty could have cost him his beloved profession as a trucker, Thompson said. Yet in order to press the defense that his questioned actions leading to the fatal accident were justifiable and of necessity, Miller acknowledged he broke the law by swerving onto the shoulder, the attorney said.
With the acquittal, Miller is still trucking, Thompson said.
“It’s really a relief that he could go on about the business that he loves, next to his wife, and that’s driving over the road,” Thompson said of the client he said had an unblemished commercial-driving record. “This goes through his veins. I’m sure he already was shaken (about Jakel’s death); anybody would be. But it wasn’t his fault.”
Messages left Thursday with Lee County’s state’s attorney weren’t immediately returned.