Trucker's Widow Wants Heavier Penalty


Schoharie County truck driver, Jason Rivenburg, was gunned down in South Carolina. Two men who assisted his murderer have been sentenced to 30 days incarceration and five years' probation, a punishment the victim's widow felt too light Wednesday.

"It's not the outcome that I hoped for," Hope Rivenburg, wife of the victim and a mother of three young children, said in a phone interview from her Fultonham home. "I would have liked more jail time than what they got."

The 35 year old victim, Jason Rivenburg, was shot in the head twice and was killed in a March 5, 2009 robbery. Apparently his killer netted only $7 in this heinous crime. Rivenburg was cleaning the dashboard of his tractor-trailer on a rural road in St. Matthews S.C. when he got shot. He spent the night in an abandoned gas station. His body was seen by a passing driver two days after the murder.

William Pelzer, 22, the man who gunned down the victim was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Two accessories to the crime -- Willie Reed and Jimmy Haywood, both 21 -- cut plea deals during the case and testified against Pelzer. They were sentenced Monday.

The two accessories were both convicted of filing false reports about the .45 caliber handgun, which happens to be the murder weapon. To help him get rid of the evidence, Pelzer had convinced Reed and Haywood to lie about the gun.

A month ago, Hope Rivenburg said she wished both Reed and Haywood would get the maximum penalty, which ranged from probation to 15 years in prison.

Times Union reported, "They were negligent in so many ways," Rivenburg said at the time. "They knew Pelzer had shot him and they never even bothered to check on Jason to make sure he wasn't in the cab suffering."

Thirteen days after Rivenburg was murdered, the widow gave birth to twins, Logan and Hezekiah. Her eldest son named Joshua is 3 years old.

Haywood and Reed received only 30 days in jail – instead of the maximum sentence. It is a time that can be served on weekends – and five years probation. According to Rivenburg's widow and police, the two accessories must perform 100 hours of community service.

The men face up to eight years behind bars if they violate probation said Rivenburg's widow, who took the plane to South Carolina for the sentencing. The solicitor who prosecuted the case could not be reached Wednesday.

Sheriff Thomas Summers of Calhoun County, S.C., where Rivenburg was slain, said, on Wednesday, that such plea deals are not uncommon to secure convictions for the "most violent criminals." If Haywood and Reed had not cooperated, authorities would have set all three defendants free. Summers said, as Pelzer was being sentenced he broke down and apologized for his misdeeds.

According to the sheriff, in his experience, most people on probation have been unsuccessful to remain on the straight and narrow. He said he is pretty much sure Haywood and Reed would "probably violate their probation and go into prison."

Summers said such crimes are unique in his county, which is a 400-mile area south of Columbia and has some 15,000 residents. "This was upsetting to all the people in our county," he added.

Federal "Jason's Law," was being pushed by Rivenburg's widow. The bill advanced by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, and supported by D-Amsterdam -- which would provide $20 million annually under a six-year pilot program -- will bolster safety at trucking locations across the nation.

The simple truth is rest areas safe lives. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) estimates that:

  • The absence of rest areas increases shoulder related accidents due to parked vehicles on the side of the road by 52%

  • Reducing driver fatigue accounted for a 3.7% reduction in accident rates.

  • MotoristÂâ€Ã¢„¢s use of rest areas reduced accidents by 3.7% representing a benefit to society of 148 million dollars.

According to "Providing truckers with safe places to rest on or near the highways keeps everyone safer. Giving them a place at or near their destination to wait makes our mad dash to work safer. Our economy and our lifestyles depend on moving products from their source to market and you canÂâ€Ã¢„¢t do that without a truck. More than that, they pay more taxes than any other profession."