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Bobtail driver evades Amerigas safety procedures

The safety director of Amerigas Inc says safety procedures were in place at a facility where a bobtail driver was employed who issued a threat in Tennessee against President Bush and said he would explode a 3,000-pound bomb. The driver was arrested March 31 after leading law enforcement officials on a high-speed, 20-mile chase in the bobtail, according to Beth Womack of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Amerigas officials have reviewed its records on the driver and the facility, and found no discrepancies that would have alerted the company to the driver's condition, says Gary Wolf, safety director, Valley Forge PA. In addition, a regional safety manager was at the Amerigas branch the week before the incident and talked to the driver, Monty Branch, 29, of Frankfort KY. At that time, the bobtail was red-flagged because of tire condition. However, Branch told the safety manager that he was concerned about serving the customers on his route, and urged the tires be replaced in a timely manner.

After Branch was arrested, Amerigas safety managers reviewed his driving record and found it in compliance with regulations, including commercial driver license rules and drug tests, Wolf added.

The incident began Sunday afternoon when Branch called the Bradley County sheriff's office from a service station north of Chattanooga, according to Beth Womack of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. At that time, Branch made the threats to the sheriff's dispatcher.

As law enforcement officials began searching for the man, he was spotted driving the bobtail on I-75 South. He attempted to evade the officers and tried to ram a Hamilton County sheriff's patrol car and a Chattanooga police car, as well as forcing other drivers off the road. Law enforcement officials set up tire puncture road blocks in his path, which eventually brought the truck to a halt. Branch resisted officers, but was arrested after officers broke a truck window to apprehend him, according to official reports.

The driver is in Bradley County Jail, charged with evading arrest, reckless endangerment, and possession of marijuana. Bond was denied at an initial hearing April 2 and another hearing is scheduled April 9, according to a Bradley County court spokesperson.

Other charges are pending and the Secret Service is investigating the incident, Womack said.

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