Last week, the Illinois secretary of state’s office begrudgingly restored the commercial driver’s license of John Stokes, the trucker whose steel-loaded rig caused an Amtrak train to derail, killing 11 people. But Secretary of State Jesse White is still looking for ways to pull Stokes’ license.
White’s lawyers are researching laws that could allow for a two-month – or longer – suspension of Stokes’ CDL. The research involves a speeding ticket he received last year from a state trooper in Kankakee County. Under federal law, two convictions in three years for excessive speeding – defined as driving at least 15 mph over the speed limit – result in automatic revocation of a CDL. Before the March 15 Amtrak accident near Bourbonnais, IL, White’s office knew about one recent instance when Stokes drive at least 15 mph over the speed limit, in June 1998 in Indiana. White’s office learned about the Kankakee County speeding ticket through recent news media accounts. Because Stokes obtained court supervision in that case, state law did not require that it be reported to the secretary of state.
“The legal effect of that court supervision is dismissal of the charge,” says Stokes’ attorney, Leonard Sacks.
Stokes has not been charged in the train accident, but he has a long history of traffic citations. State authorities suspended Stokes’ license Jan. 25 for 60 days after learning he had three speeding tickets within a year while driving a commercial vehicle in Indiana. After taking a driving course, he got a probationary permit to cover the period of the suspension, which ended Thursday. Only one of the three Indiana tickets was considered a serious offense, so it was possible for Stokes to get the probationary permit.
Meanwhile, Illinois state police have collected all the pieces of Stokes’ rig except for a 6-inch length of chain rail. They are studying them, along with the crossing gates and train locomotive, to try to figure out exactly what happened in the deadly accident. Stokes says the lights started flashing after he started across the tracks, but some believe he tried to snake around the gates in an attempt to beat the train.
Investigators are most interested in the angle at which everything happened. That should tell investigators whether the truck was heading straight across the tracks when it was hit by the train. If it was hit at an angle, that would indicate Stokes was trying to get around the gates.