In the blink of an eye, a driver’s life was forever changed.
It was a normal night for Jason Layne. He had just picked up a load and was headed to his delivery location. It was a clear, cold night. At approximately 4:00 am, Layne was traveling along Route 10 in Kansas.
Layne was used to driving nights. He has been on the same dedicated account for months. He liked driving nights when fewer cars were on the road.
Layne said he knew that he knew there were a lot of deer in the area, so he was frequently doing a sweep of the area to keep an eye out for them.
Not too far ahead of Layne was a passenger vehicle and a police officer.
Layne recalls the police car suddenly hitting his brakes, swerving to the right and pulling onto the shoulder of the road.
Not wanting to “buzz” the police officer, Layne, who was in the right lane, moved into the left lane. That’s when he saw why the officer suddenly pulled onto the shoulder. A man was lying in the roadway.
Layne frantically steered to the left, hitting the shoulder, but the impact couldn’t be avoided. “My headlights were on. As I got closer, I saw the man lying on the road and he was looking at me. I can still see his eyes.”
Layne recalls his feelings that night. “It was traumatizing. This was somebody’s brother, uncle, son…”
“My first thought was, I’m going to go to jail for the rest of my life and I’ll never see my family again,” Layne said.
Layne remained at the scene. A police investigation found that Layne was not at-fault for any crime and he was free to go, but the incident was far from over for Layne. He would struggle with the events of that night for months to come, and is still struggling with it today, two years later.
Layne, who always loved driving at night, couldn’t drive nights for months. He struggled with sleep. He was anxious every time he saw someone walking on the side of the road.
“I think about it every time I see someone walking on the side of the road. I wonder, ‘Is this person suicidal? Are they going to try to step in front of my truck?'”
“Still to this day, years later, I’m on edge,” Layne told CDLLife. “It’s always in the back of my mind.”
Layne said that he wishes he could tell people that truck drivers are real people too. “We’re humans. We have emotions. Incidents like this impact us too.”
Not an isolated incident
Incidents like Layne’s are not uncommon. In fact, they’re far too common. Suicides by railroad are tracked by the Federal Railroad Administration but no agency tracks the statistics of suicide by truck. Most are likely labeled as pedestrian deaths, according to Jill Harkavy-Freiddman, VP of research for the American Federation for Suicide Prevention.
On April 12, 2018, truck driver Randall Tidwell posted a video to YouTube of a man attempting to kill himself on the highway.
Tidwell wrote, “On April 5th, 2018, a man attempted to kill himself by running into my lane on the 680 Freeway near San Jose. Thankfully I was able to stop within a foot of him. I was traveling 59 mph at the time. He was unharmed.”
Fortunately for Tidwell, he was able to avoid hitting the man.
In 2016, a similar incident occurred in Tennessee. YouTuber RunHard GetPaid created a video describing his encounter with a woman who tried to kill herself by running out in front of his truck.
From the video description: “A recap of the worst night I’ve ever had behind the wheel of a semi truck, the night a woman attempted suicide by jumping in front of my loaded tractor trailer on a rainy night in Tennessee.”
In July 15 2020, a Michigan man intentionally drove his vehicle into a truck in an attempt to commit suicide.
The unnamed man reportedly accelerated his 2000 gray Pontiac Bonneville through a parking lot at a “high rate of speed” and drove his vehicle into a parked 2004 Kenworth truck.
Fortunately, the truck was unoccupied at the time of the accident.
The man had to be extricated from his car. The man told first responders that he was trying to kill himself. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of his injuries, where he later died.
Impact on drivers
Over the years, CDLLife has spoken with drivers privately about the effects of suicide by truck. One driver told CDLLife that he was so traumatized that he could never drive again.
PTSD, or Post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that’s triggered by a terrifying or traumatic event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms sometimes include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
“Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Therapy and medication can help reduce the symptoms of PTSD. Drivers who think they may have PTSD are urged to seek treatment. There is help and you do not have to go through this alone.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional.
*Driver’s name changed to protect his identity.