Truck driver concerns valid, but story also illustrates the dangers of assuming the worst

When I first heard that a truck driver had asked a 9-year-old boy outside of Washington Elementary School if he wanted to see something inside his truck, I was pretty shocked. Of course, as the mother of twin 9-year-old boys at the same school, I assumed the worst.

After Wendy Johnson, publisher at the Pine Journal, followed up on the police press release to find out the whole story, my feelings changed and I began to think perhaps this truck driver was only guilty of poor judgment rather than unthinkable intentions. (Read the Pine Journal story at the end of this blog post.)

I realized then that the same kind of story easily could have been written about me the Friday before.

Just a week before, it was a bitterly cold Friday morning. I had just dropped off my boys at school and noticed a teenage boy who was not wearing mittens, walking in the direction of the high school, a good 8-10 blocks away. I had seen him walking the same route a couple times before, but this time I decided to drive around the block and see if he needed a ride to school since it was such a cold day.

By the time I got around the block, he was gone. Assuming he must have gotten a ride from someone else, I didn’t give it another thought.

Until I was reading Wendy’s story and suddenly realized that my kind intentions could very easily be misinterpreted.

I’m not saying that the truck driver is guilty or innocent, just that we too often jump to the worst conclusions today. I think the little boy did all the right things, as did his grandmother in reporting the incident. The police and county attorney’s office also did their jobs in investigating the matter thoroughly.

But I also hope the truck driver still has his job if his only crime is that of not thinking of how his offer could be interpreted.

Charges not likely against delivery driver who approached elementary student

By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal

Assistant Carlton County Attorney Michael Boese indicated Wednesday that charges are unlikely against a delivery truck driver who reportedly invited a 9-year-old student at Washington Elementary School in Cloquet to get inside his semi-truck after school on Friday.

According to Cloquet Deputy Chief Terry Hill, the incident took place at 3:20 p.m. Friday as the student was waiting to be picked up outside the school. The 9-year-old boy said a man delivering items to the school asked him on two occasions to get inside the truck to “see something.” The boy did not comply. He reported the incident to his grandmother when she arrived to pick him up, and she took down the company name and contact information from the side of the truck. The family contacted police later that afternoon.

Cloquet police assigned School Liaison Officer Derek Randall to investigate the incident. He was able to track down the 31-year-old truck driver to get his version of the story, as well as that of the boy who reported the incident.

According to Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande, the truck driver stated he was making a delivery to the school when the boy gestured for him to sound the truck’s air horn, which the driver did. The driver stated he then asked the boy if he wanted to come inside the truck to see how the air horn worked, which the boy refused to do. Lamirande said based on both statements, it was difficult to determine the truck driver’s true intent in asking the boy to enter his truck.

“I agree this sort of thing can be some really scary stuff,” acknowledged Lamirande, “but it’s also a huge label to put on someone if they are innocent of any criminal intent.”

The paperwork on the investigation was forwarded to the office of the Carlton County Attorney on Tuesday, and after reviewing it thoroughly, Boese commented the following day, “I know people are concerned about this, but with the information we have at hand, I don’t believe we can charge [the truck driver] because the incident doesn’t fit the criteria we need to follow.”

Boese explained that the intent of the accused in such an incident must be clearly defined, whether it be through sexual contact, solicitation of a child to engage in sexual contact or attempt to kidnap.

“This is scary, reprehensible conduct,” agreed Boese, “but at this time, unless anyone else comes forward with additional information, we don’t have the grounds to charge him with anything.”

Boese said the school does have the right to file a misdemeanor trespass order against the driver, however, indicating by certified letter that he is not allowed to call at the school any longer or risk a misdemeanor trespass charge if he does. Washington Elementary Principal Randy Thudin stated on Wednesday morning that this is likely the course the school will take.

“I think we need to do that just to protect our kids,” said Thudin. “It seems like something this child would not have made up.”

In the meantime, Thudin said the school doesn’t plan on going about things any differently than they are right now to maintain student and staff safety.

“For the past two years, we’ve had a policy of locking down all of the doors so anyone entering the school has to go by way of the school office,” he said. “When I sent out an email to staff on Tuesday, I said I know it’s a lot of work to keep things locked down, but it’s a system that we need to adhere to.”

He further stated the driver in question was making a delivery to the school’s art room, and the teacher followed procedure by meeting him at the front door, escorting him to the classroom and making sure the door was locked after he left.

Thudin said all teachers talk with students on a monthly basis about bullying prevention, being approached by strangers, and related personal safety topics. He added that a week ago Friday, the CLIMB (Creative Learning Ideas for Mind and Body) Theater made a presentation to students at every grade level on those same topics.

“The [Washington Elementary] student reacted absolutely appropriately,” reiterated School Superintendent Ken Scarbrough, “and I believe everything that could be done was done. I’m not recommending any policy changes.”

Thudin said he hasn’t had a single call from parents regarding the incident, and both he and the teacher talked with the 9-year-old boy when school resumed on Tuesday.

 

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