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Semi truck driver, high on meth, sentenced to life in prison for killing two women in horrific crash

Driver had CDL despite history of drugs, DUI
Posted at 9:56 PM, Dec 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-20 23:55:23-05

On Dec. 30, 2011, Kathleen O’ Callaghan and her best friend Jennifer Jenkins, were hit and killed by a semi truck driver so high on meth he had no clue what happened.  

The victims' family members say the state needs to do a lot more to monitor people who have a commercial driver's license.

“It’s unacceptable. It really is unacceptable, there is no reason drivers should be allowed; people with a CDL should be allowed to drive if they have a drug conviction or test positive for drugs,” Carol O’ Callaghan said. “There was so much meth in his system one of the experts testified typically somebody with that much meth, they only see them dead.”

In October, nearly six years after the crash, Michael Phillips was sentenced to life in prison.  Phillips is familiar with being behind bars. He’s been convicted of DUI twice: once in Alabama, a second time in Florida.  Phillips also has past convictions for possession of cocaine.  

On the afternoon of Dec. 30 Jenkins and O’Callaghan were passing through Wauchula in Hardee County on their way to Orlando to visit a friend. Jenkins’ husband Dan was following behind in a separate car with their newborn daughter.  Dan witnessed the horrific crash and was nearly killed by Phillips too.

“I had to really turn, grab the wheel, turn it, yank it and miss his semi from hitting and killing me, and my daughter also,” Jenkins said.  “To have a CDL, we should have higher standards. If you have a history of narcotics you shouldn’t be allowed to have a CDL.”

ABC Action News obtained Phillips’ driving record. It shows that his commercial license was active until 2016.  Records show it was suspended for a violation unrelated to the fatal crash.  His CDL expired in 2013, meaning even after getting charged with two felony counts for DUI manslaughter, Phillips was still legally allowed to drive a truck while out on bond.

“He’s out of jail for more than a few weeks, he is out of jail and driving again. He’d been in and out of jail his entire adult life.  It definitely wasn’t the first time he took drugs.  He weaponized a vehicle he rolled right over them and he didn’t even know it,” O' Callaghan said.

Court documents show that Phillips was hired by two brothers to haul oranges. The truck’s owner Gilberto Castillo testified that he just cashed the checks and didn’t even know Phillips.  His testimony never mentions whether or not he required Phillips to take a drug test.  

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration along with the Department of Transportation, requires that persons subject to the commercial driver's license (CDL) requirements and their employers follow alcohol and drug testing rules.

Industry experts admit that some semi truck drivers fall through the cracks and know how to “game” the system and pass drug tests.  

Since 2015, records from the Florida Highway Patrol show that 124 drivers in commercial motor vehicles crashes tested positive for drugs.

The victims' family members say the system failed them. They hope by sharing their tragedy legislators will take a hard look at Florida law and put tougher restrictions and oversight in place.

Jennifer was a nurse. O’ Callaghan worked for Save the Children. Both women dedicated their lives to helping others. Carol says her sister would want something positive to come out of her death.

“They were the funniest people, they laughed and enjoyed life and they would want to be remembered that way,” O’ Callaghan said. “As Dan says they should not be remembered for the worst five minutes of their lives, they should be remembered for all the joy and goodness they brought to this world. They would definitely want this to make a change in the system.”

The federal government plans to launch a Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse in 2020.