Friday, August 9, 2013

Will ‘Killer Truckers’ take the low road?

So I was reading a rather breathlessly written press release issued by Investigation Discovery, promoting its newest investigative miniseries, “Killer Truckers.”

It’s a four-part series on serial killers who prowl the long, lonely highways in search of victims.

Here’s what the release says:

“Big rig drivers of America’s interstates rule the roads and supply our lives, delivering everything from clothing and food to livestock and fuel. But for some asphalt cowboys, the highways provide more than a living. They serve as a hunting ground. With 25 former long-haul truckers serving time in America’s prison system for serial murder, Investigation Discovery’s all-new documentary special, ID INVESTIGATES: KILLER TRUCKERS takes a hard look at predators in the fast lane, illuminating a dark corner of America’s mobile society, in which the open road can both hide and drive deadly intentions.”

While the release goes on to note that “the vast majority of the trucking industry is made up of honest, hard-working Americans who go through painstaking measures to conduct themselves under a code of ethics and safety,” it also makes the leap that “the transient and solitary nature of the work can attract crooked characters.

“The anonymous lifestyle allows them to unleash pent-up demons between 11-hour stints and hightail it out of town before sunrise.”

Let’s drop some gears here. Pent-up demons? This is sounding more and more like dumpster diving.

Why are truckers so often singled out for this serial killer hype? I called up Dr. Mike Aamodt, professor emeritus of psychology at Radford University in Virginia, who has spent the last 20 years compiling a database on serial killers in the U.S. and abroad.

According to Aamodt’s database, of the 753 serial killers whose occupations are known, only 38 of those listed their occupation as commercial truck drivers. That’s 38 out of 753.

The list also includes 35 nurses, 29 construction workers, a dozen janitors, another dozen members of the military, nine police officers, five barbers, three accountants, three postal workers, and at least one chocolate factory worker.

Arguably the most common occupation for serial killers is they don’t have one at all, according to Aamodt’s research. Eighty-three of the serial killers were unemployed.

Look, we all know that almost every profession has to deal with bad actors – the ones who are doing things that give the vast majority a bad name. There’s nothing in the research to suggest that truckers as a group are more likely than other occupations to become serial killers.

Last year, some truckers we know bumped into the crew that produced this show. They were told by the producers that their documentary was about “exposing dangers on the road.”

There are plenty of dangers on the road, from the longer heavier trucks, split speed limits and crumbling bridges, to unqualified drivers operating tractor-trailers without having had adequate training. Where’s that TV special?

Well, there isn’t one, because nobody buys a mini-series about that. Hell, we have a hard time selling those concerns to our lawmakers or regulators – and that’s their job.

“Killer Truckers” – from the lurid promotional material – doesn’t strike me as a well meant documentary on dangers of the road. It sounds like it will simply feed America’s sick appetite for stereotype – and “serial killer truckers” are right up there at the top of the menu.

It airs Aug. 13. We’ll see …