Ray Griffin, an independent trucker with a refrigerator van full of TV dinners and frozen pizzas destined for Charleston, S.C., was fueling his rig at the 10-4 Truck Stop when shots rang out Tuesday night.
"There was bullets flying everywhere," he said. "I didn't bother to count 'em."
Griffin, 33, recalled today that he ambled inside to the cashier, nearly lost his balance, took off a bloody boot and realized he had been shot in the ankle.
Griffin, who said he survived 13 months in the jungles of Vietnam without a scratch, apparently had become a victim of guerrilla warfare by angry independent truckers trying to keep tractor-trailers off the highways to protest scheduled boosts in federal fuel taxes and highway user fees.
More than a dozen incidents of reported violence statewide, most involving rocks and bricks thrown at trucks at night, prompted the Georgia State Patrol today to offer to escort daytime convoys of more than 25 trucks. The first such police escort is scheduled to move between Metter and Savannah Thursday.
Griffin said he did not see who shot him, but that "If it was a truck driver, I don't want to be called a 'truck driver.' I sure won't call 'em 'good buddies' anymore."
He holds forth over the CB radio as "Georgia-FBI," and the radio crackled today with inquiries from "Country Boy," "Top Cat," "007" and others asking about their wounded comrade.
Griffin has been driving a truck since he obtained his driver's license at age 15. After Army duty, he worked one year as a policeman in Thomasville, Ga. But he said he always returned to the open road as a way to support his wife, Lillian, and three children.
Even though he earned about $50,000 last year, Griffin said he fell behind on mortgage and $1,000-a-month truck payments, and nearly lost both his house and truck to the bank. After paying for truck fuel and repairs, he had nothing left for the bank, he said.
Griffin rested his injured left foot today on a leather chair at Caudell Trucking, an irregular-route common carrier that hires 100 owner-operators like Griffin to haul produce and frozen food to small towns not served by large carriers.
Crutches were fitted. Curtains were drawn. Company President Tom Caudell, 34, paced back and forth.
Outside, 25 trailers hugged the loading docks, refrigerator units humming, waiting for drivers who never showed up. "We've got 65 percent of our people still running," Caudell said. "The rest don't support the strike, but they're afraid."
Down the highway at the 10-4 Truck Stop, angry independents drank hot coffee, played Pac-Man and vowed to park their rigs until user fees are repealed. There was little sympathy for Griffin.
"He got what he deserved," one independent driver said. "He had no business out there."
Another, who has parked his rig, advocated shooting tires and radiators, not drivers, "just to put someone temporarily out of business . . . . I'd rather sit at home in an easy chair and go broke than go broke driving to California and have to hitchhike home."
As soon as surgeons dig the bullet out of his ankle--"if it will come out," Griffin said--he aims to climb back into his 18-wheeler and get to work, "strike or no strike."
"If others don't want to make a living, that's their business," he said. "But a person has got to survive. I got a home to pay for, kids to feed and bills to pay. If I don't run my truck, I lose my house and everything I own. It's as simple as a-b-c, the way the economy is."