10 Strange Truck Stop Stories

1The Texas truck stop that is a hotbed of criminal activity

In an industry not necessarily known for its impeccable standards, the Key Truck Stop in Texas was considered among the worst in America, which led to it being declared a public nuisance in January 2014.

The Harris County Attorney's Office claimed the police had been called to the stop 54 times in one year due to criminal activities like robbery, drugs, assault, theft, gambling, prostitution, and credit card fraud. The establishment is infamous, among even the most road-hardened truckers with one offering this colorful description: "You have to stuff crappy toilet paper in the holes in the walls to keep eyes from looking back at you. Crack heads and lot lizards own the parking lot, hell they even do business in the hallway between the store and restaurant."

Faced with the threat of a large fine, and being shut down, the Key's owner worked to clean the place up, but its reputation remains.

2The serial killer who tortured prostitutes in his trailer

 Long haul trucker Bruce Mendenhall, the "Truck Stop Serial Killer," traveled across the U.S. preying on prostitutes. Mendenhall was caught in 2007, after raising suspicion when a Nashville policeman noticed blood splattered the door of his cab. Inside the truck, the police found a rifle, knives, handcuffs, latex gloves, black tape, a nightstick, sex toys, and a bag of blood, which he confessed came from a prostitute.

While in prison, Bruce tried to hire other inmates to kill the investigators and three witnesses. The crazed man was convicted of killing four women and is still a prime suspect in the murders of 7 others.

3The NFL owner who scammed truckers out of millions of dollars

In 2014, Cleveland Browns owner and CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain (with over 500 locations) Jimmy Haslam, paid $92 million to the U.S. government to avoid federal prosecution on charges of underpaying rebates to trucking companies who had signed up to refuel exclusively at Flying J's. Court documents showed that the practice of "jacking the discount" was common knowledge throughout the company and was encouraged, saving the corporation millions of dollars each year. Secret recordings of salesmen training employees on how to cheat customers and discussing the CEO's direct knowledge of the scheme were heard.

Asked if Haslam knew about the fraud, one salesman said "Absolutely. I mean, he knew all along that I was cost-plussin' this guy. He knew it all along. Loved it. We were making $450,000 a month on him."

4The "vampire" trucker who kidnapped, raped, and tortured women in his trailer

In November 2016, Timothy Jay Vafeades, a 56-year-old truck driver, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping, abusing, and imprisoning six women as sex slaves in his semitrailer.

Vafeades had been torturing women for nearly two decades when he was arrested in 2013. He was obsessed with vampires, wore fangs, and even nicknamed his truck the "Twilight Express" after the TV series. He picked up women at truck stops and once in his truck, the madman would beat and brainwash them into submission, going so far as to file down one girl's teeth to fit her with fake fangs. At his hearing, the abuser was remorseful, “I am sorry for my life,” he said. “I am sorry for not recognizing myself and what a monster I am.”

5The woman who posed as a truck stop doctor

In 2014, a 58-year-old woman in Carlisle, Pennsylvania had lost her chiropractor license and decided to assume the identity of an actual physician. Well aware that regular tests are required for drivers, she began providing physicals to truckers from a nearby truck stop.

Joann Wingate papered the area with a flyer offering low-cost services and was so successful in her ruse, she even gained a contract with a local transportation company with false certifications. It was only when one man became suspicious after she picked him up in her Ford Tempo to drive him to her house and perform the tests that she was arrested and charged with wire fraud, submitting false documents and aggravated identify theft.

6The truck stop that uses a live tiger for advertising

For 17 years, the Tiger Truck Stop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana has displayed a live tiger in a cage. Animal-rights activists have long been attempting to have the big cat removed and relocated to an animal sanctuary. "It's a major intersection, he has to deal with gasoline smells and a lot of road noise," said an attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Meanwhile, the cat's owner, Michael Sandlin, claims to have spent $700,000 on legal fees in his effort to have Tony the Truck Stop Tiger, stay put. "As long as God gives me breath, and as long as he provides the means for me to keep fighting, I will," said Sandlin.

7Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg met with truckers at the world's largest stop

In what some see as an attempt to lay the groundwork for a presidential run in 2020, Mark Zuckerberg went on a "listening tour" of all 50 states. The Facebook creator found his way to The World's Largest Truck Stop in Iowa, where he spoke to drivers and addressed the threat of automated driving to their livelihoods.
The possibly out-of-touch billionaire later summed up the discussion by saying, "Everyone I met was skeptical that self-driving trucks would replace jobs. " said Zuckerberg, adding, "From all the research I've seen, I'm confident we'll solve these problems. But it's interesting that people in the industry don't believe this will happen soon."

8The father who forced his child into truck stop prostitution

In one of the saddest cases of sex-slavery associated with truck stops, a Houston trucker was sentenced to 30 years in prison for forcing his then 16-year-old daughter into prostitution. The girl said she was driven to the lots by her father, who would have her roam the rest area soliciting driver. The man had also placed online ads offering her for sex or escort services. The 46-year-old man's name wasn't revealed because it would give her identity away.

9The driver who let 19 people suffocate in his trailer

In May 2003, Tyrone Williams was hired to transport 74 illegal immigrants in a milk truck through Texas. The refrigeration was turned off, leaving the passengers to succumb to airlessness and dehydration in temperatures as high as 173 degrees. The driver ignored the banging from the victims, and eventually abandoned the vehicle at a truck stop. When the trailer was opened, 19 people were dead. Williams was found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison.

10The pyromaniac trucker who tried to burn people alive

Using rags soaked in fuel deposited in the wheel wells of tractor-trailers, Stephen Price, a 41-year old driver, set occupied trucks ablaze in Kingdom City, Missouri. In one night, he set fire to four trucks at four different stops, sending police and fire departments scrambling. When Price's truck was noticed at several scenes on security footage, his employer, Tennant Truck Lines, discovered that Stephen had indeed been that scene of all the crimes. The arsonist was arrested and pleaded guilty to setting fires in six states in 2011.  

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