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Sunday, February 17th, 2019

Timothy Douglas

On the morning of July 19, 1995, Timothy Douglas, a veteran commercial driver who had logged more than 1 million miles, was headed southbound on I-75 in Georgia when he fell asleep at the wheel of his 18-wheeler, rear-ending a pick-up truck carrying 14 people. Adults, children, even infants flew from the bed of the truck, littering the highway—seven people were dead. After the crash, Douglas was charged with vehicular homicide, not because he had fallen asleep, but for having faulty brakes and driving too closely.

While awaiting trial, Douglas continued to struggle with his longstanding constant fatigue, his loud snoring, and his gasping for breath during sleep. The Department of Transportation doctors who had certified him as being medically fit to drive hadn’t discovered the cause, but it was the tenacity of his sister, a nurse, who insisted that another doctor that she knew search for the reason why Douglas would drop off to sleep in the middle of a conversation. Finally they found the answer—as the doctor told him that he had severe obstructive sleep apnea, Douglas’ mind flashed back to the carnage, the nightmare of 14 bodies lying scattered on the highway, and he struggled with the knowledge that it didn’t have to happen. If only the doctors had asked a few simple questions about sleep during his Department of Transportation physical. If only one of his employers had discussed the dangers of sleep disorders.

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