UPDATE: Family Outraged Over Company's Response to Trucker's Death
COLUMBIA - A Higbee family said it is outraged over the press release issued in response to the story over deceased trucker Raymond White.
White died of a heart attack on July 14 in New Mexico while driving his truck for Southern Refrigerated Transport.
The family said Monday they received no help from the company when they reported White missing, and that the national group The Missing Trucker's Charity Alert Network led the charge in helping New Mexico State Troopers find White's body.
After White's body was found at a rest stop, the family said SRT refused to transport his remains or his personal belongings without a cash payment on delivery, with a price tag the family couldn't afford.
The family had to reach out to Trucker's Charity Inc., who networked via social media and its community of truckers to send White's cremated remains back to his family.
Three trucks, 2,730 miles and 15 days later, Raymond finished his last ride home. He had been a truck driver for 20 years.
After more than two weeks of uncertainty, Raymond White's family and friends were relieved to see a semi-truck with his remains inside pulling into the Sam's Club parking lot.
"I didn't think it was ever gonna happen," said Raymond's sister, Denise Mathis.
The company then issued a statement in response to backlash from viewers over the story, but the family said at a memorial service for White on Tuesday they are not satisfied with the response.
"I don't understand how they can say that 15 days to get your loved one home is the right thing to do," said White's girlfriend, Cathy Rossi. "I mean we are just having the service today, we just got Ray home yesterday. Everything's thrown together at the last minute and I'm outraged."
The press release said that White died on July 15, when he actually died on the 14.
Rossi also said the family has been trying to contact SRT for several days but they have received no response, and they were unaware of the press release until KOMU 8 News contacted her about it.
"I just don't think they respect the family at all," Rossi said. "Up to this point I don't feel like they have done right by Ray or the family in any way."
"Unfortunately it's a common situation," said Kerry Mullins, a secretary of the Trucker's Charity Inc. on Monday. "Companies are going to protect themselves and say it's the family's responsibility."
Mullins said he is reaching out to lawmakers through the Owner Operator Independent Driver's Association to push trucking companies to take a more active role in finding missing drivers and supporting the families who have lost loved ones.
"Events like these happen hundreds of times a year," Mullins said. "It's unfair for these families to have to go it on their own."
SRT Representative Lee Hills said the company had no further comment to add with its press release.
Here is the statement released by SRT:
"We were saddened to learn of the passing of one of our company drivers, Raymond White on July 15, 2013. Mr. White died of natural causes, and while he had only been with the company for a few months, he was nonetheless a valuable member of our team, and we extend our sincerest condolences to his family. Unfortunately, there has been some misinformation and/or misunderstanding surrounding the protocol we follow when faced with the passing of an employee who is away from home. The rationale and guidelines we follow are important to understand and are consistently applied. Moreover, we believe they are founded on the principle of doing the right thing. But in a world complicated by legal intricacies and competing interests, doing the right thing becomes harder and harder to do. That said, in an effort to avoid the potential distraction that could result from communicating through various media outlets about the specifics involved in handling the loss of an employee, we choose instead to focus on the most important thing at this time....i.e. allowing the family and friends of our colleague to begin the healing process. Accordingly, we ask you to please join us in remembering the family and friends of Raymond White and to keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."