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tv   2020  ABC  September 19, 2014 10:01pm-11:01pm PDT

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tonight, on an all-new "20/20." are you on a road to ruin? reckless truckers, driving when they're dead tired. sometimes killing because of it. we're catching them in the "20/20" speed trap. and check what this trucker caught. a driver pressured to keep on trucking when he's almost asleep at the wheel. and, think the guardrails are keeping you safe? exposing the controversial
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design change. could one inch lead to the loss of limbs, and lives? pedal to the metal. and, a sniper on the loose during rush hour. your life in his hands, just by getting in your car. the frantic manhunt. but what they found couldn't have been more shocking. tonight, are you driving on a road to ruin? >> oh, damn! >> here's david muir. >> good evening. will you be driving down a road to ruin without even knowing it this weekend? first on "20/20," the change to something on the highway you never knew about. some say it killed their loved
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ones. brian ross, asking the tough questions, looking out for you. >> reporter: just after midnight on interstate 40 in north carolina, where a guardrail meant to protect, almost killed. >> we need to get somebody out here quick. i'm starting to bleed to death. >> all right, sir. i'm trying to locate you. >> reporter: the motorist hit the guardrail head-on after nodding off and was trapped in his car, bleeding out. >> i'm going to die. >> we're trying to get some help. >> reporter: the long steel rail, seen in this photo from behind the driver and passenger seats, sliced through the suv like a thick, sharp spear and then cut off his legs. >> i've lost my legs in a wreck. >> you're saying you lost both your legs, sir? >> yeah. >> reporter: 36-year old jay traylor did survive, able to save his life with a makeshift tourniquet, but not his legs. >> in the wreck, this one was gone. then, i had to make the choice to lose that one, too. >> reporter: it wasn't supposed to happen. this test film from 15 years ago shows how a guardrail is supposed to absorb the impact, even in a head-on crash at
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62 miles per hour. the truck hits what is called the end terminal, which like a sled on a rail, moves along the guardrail absorbing the impact and deflecting and spewing the rail off to the side. that's not what happened with jay traylor. >> had the guardrails done their job, i probably would've walked away just going, "damn, i'm an idiot." >> reporter: traylor and a growing number of accident victims across the country are suing the company that makes the guardrails, trinity industries of texas. among the allegations that the company tried to save a few dollars by quietly making some slight changes in the design of what's called the trinity et-plus. >> this is the original five inch et-plus. and this is the modified four-inch et plus. >> and that makes a significant difference? >> it makes all the difference in the world.
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>> reporter: this animation shows what lawyers suing trinity say happens with the original, gliding along the rail and diverting it to the side. and what they say can happen with the modified version. the thinner terminal jams up, breaks off and the rail drives through the vehicle. >> the impact is the guardrail does not have the room to expand like it needs to, to save your life. >> reporter: 31-year old rebecca dryer, a single mom from pennsylvania, says she too was a victim of the change in the guardrail design, which pierced her car and cut off her right leg. >> i didn't understand what happened 'cause i didn't realize that it essentially was a spear that came through my car. >> reporter: rebecca, among those now suing trinity, became angry and upset as she looked at the photos from her accident, the first time she had seen them. >> i very well could have not walked away from that. wow.
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that's me? >> reporter: by some estimates, there are now a half million of the re-designed trinity guardrail terminals on highways across the country. almost every state uses them. >> this failed. this is a classic failure. >> reporter: but trinity never told the federal highway administration about the changes until this man came along -- josh harman, the owner of a small, competing guardrail company who became entangled in a patent lawsuit with trinity and had access to internal documents. >> you looked at the highway specs submitted to the federal government? >> yes, sir. >> were they in there? >> no, none of this was disclosed. absolutely none of this. >> reporter: trinity officials call harman a liar and an opportunist, out to make a buck by stirring up frivolous lawsuits. he says he's out to prove a rash of accidents are tied to the guardrail changes kept secret from the government. they call you a sleazy operator. >> oh, i'm sure they do. if i'm crazy, it's irrelevant. it's killing people. that's the most important thing. what i am has no bearing whatsoever. the fact that i found it, let's
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address that. >> reporter: the company says the changes harman is talking about were "inadvertently omitted" when it submitted documents to the federal highway administration. but an internal company e-mail obtained by abc news shows trinity engineers actually discussed keeping the change secret. quote, "i'm feeling that we could make this change with no announcement," unquote. >> so, even that one inch change should have been reported to the federal highway administration? >> absolutely. you have to ask, why would they change it? what's the motivation for changing the one inch? >> reporter: harman says it is all about the bottom line, trying to increase profits at trinity -- something the company denies. but according to the same internal trinity e-mail, the engineers calculated that shaving off an inch would save about $2 for each end terminal. "that's $50,000 a year and $250,000 in five years by using
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the four-inch channel," the memo reads. >> that's one of the motivations. the other motivation is reusability. and these changes, no question, ruin the terminal where it's not reusable. and that means millions to them. >> if you have an accident, the highway department has to buy a new one? >> you have to buy a new one. >> reporter: trinity has turned over two sets of safety crash tests to defend itself with federal highway officials and prove its modified version performs just as well as the original. and despite the growing evidence of gruesome accidents, federal officials accepted trinity's defense, saying its new version meets federal safety standards. mr. artimovich, i'm brian ross from abc news. >> reporter: the official who made that decision is nick artimovich, who declined to talk with us until we showed up at an industry conference earlier this week. why did you make that decision? >> based on the evidence that was presented to us. >> and you think they're safe now on the highways? >> as i've said, please talk to our office of public affairs. >> you can't answer that question? >> no. >> whether they're safe?
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>> safety is a relative matter. >> reporter: artimovich is the same official who once expressed concern "that it is hard to ignore the fatal results." but after trinity officials asked for what they called an "intimate" meeting with him, artimovich decided there was no problem with the new guardrail terminals. >> i did meet with trinity. >> and do you feel they're safe? >> they have the met the crash testing as required. >> and what about the fatal accidents that you have been talking about? >> i'd really ask you to, to our office of public affairs. >> reporter: so, the modified guardrails remained and remain on the road, including on this highway in missouri where brad ablen, a father of four, ran into one earlier this year. >> it was a known defect. it was a defect that trinity industries had known long before this accident in january, 2014. and when it locked up, it speared, punctured the driver side door and killed brad ablen.
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>> reporter: the fact is, on a high-speed highway, any guardrail or stationary object presents a potential hazard. trinity says the aftermath pictures of the fatal and serious accidents don't prove anything. that each accident has its own unique circumstances and that their product has a proven record of safety. even so, federal highway officials told "20/20" this week that a nationwide review of the safety of all guardrails will soon begin. for rebecca dryer, still dealing with the loss of her leg, not soon enough. >> they know what's wrong with them. change them back, change the heads back to the ones that were safe, that weren't failing, that weren't having these problems. 'cause how many more people do you want to lose limbs and go through all of this? >> so, what do you make of that? is there something on the roads you want investigated?
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tweet me and you can tweet brian. use #abc2020. how fast are truckers really going? >> next, we're flying, literally, to stop the runaway highway trucks. is it a need for speed or a need for sleep that's the problem? when we return. our old iphone and get a new iphone free at verizon. did you say something, paul? huh? no. can i route our trip? i love our trips. oh, me too. but no i'm good i know where i'm headed. how about music? nah i don't really feel like- ♪ just the two of us ♪ we can make it if we-- what a fun drive. we always have so much fun. remember that one time we- okay. sure you loved your old iphone. but you'll love your free new iphone you trade it for even more.
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how many times has this happened to you? you're driving along, and one of those rigs barrels past you, shaking your car. so, tonight, we ask, how fast are trucks really driving? tonight, matt gutman flying high above the interstate in the "20/2 "20/20" speed trap. >> reporter: "20/20"'s on the chase, out with the ohio state highway patrol, using air power to declare war on reckless truckers.
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at 3,500 feet above i-70 outside columbus, sergeant george king uses a stopwatch and white marks on the road to spot violators. >> following too close, that's going too fast. it looks like an oversize load. >> reporter: king zeroes in on this 18-wheeler barreling down the highway at 77 miles per hour and tailgating a car. >> closing in on a dark blue, white box. following too close, .34 seconds. >> reporter: i'm now with the ground unit, and sergeant reimer jams his cruiser into gear. >> this guy's goin' so fast. we're flying right now, trying to catch up. you can see how fast we're passing these trucks. the trucker pulls over and he's not happy. i'm matt from abc news. how are you? >> i don't need to be on the news. >> they clocked you going 77 miles an hour and tailgating behind a car. do you think it's hazardous?
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>> yeah. >> just trying to catch up with a semi-trailer up ahead. >> reporter: the cops also nail this trucker for tailgating. he's pulled over and cited. >> did you notice that you were too close to someone? >> well, sometimes you have to do that when you're, like, passing another car. >> reporter: cracking down on potentially dangerous truckers is a top priority. in 2012 alone, there were more than 330,000 large truck crashes in the u.s. -- nearly 4,000 fatalities and more than 100,000 injuries. in most cases, it's the truck driver who survives. you have a truck that weighs 80,000 pounds. what happens when it collides with anything else? >> it's catastrophic. >> looks like a bomb went off, right? >> yeah, pretty much. >> it's a terrible accident. it's two vehicles and a walmart truck. >> reporter: it was this horrifying crash in june that turned the national spotlight on a leading cause of truck crashes -- tired drivers. at 1:00 a.m. on the new jersey turnpike, a walmart truck sped through a construction zone going 20 miles over the limit
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and plowing into the back of three vehicles -- including a limo bus carrying a group of comedians. >> comedian tracy morgan in critical condition right now. >> reporter: superstar comedian tracy morgan and two others were critically injured. another comedian was killed in the crash, 62-year old james mcnair -- a longtime friend and mentor to morgan. >> my dad was big on pictures. you can see in that signature smile in almost every picture. >> reporter: news of the crash ripped a hole in the lives of mcnair's kids, jamel and danita. >> just hard to sometimes even, you know, find the words. >> the fact that he's not here anymore, i feel like i lost my best friend. >> reporter: the family was shocked by what they learned about the walmart driver, kevin roper, who has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the crash. it turns out that roper had commuted over 700 miles from his home in georgia to the walmart facility in delaware before he even punched in.
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police say roper had been awake for a full 24 hours when he slammed into morgan's limo -- an allegedly deadly combination of fatigue and velocity. >> whoever's responsible, to be held accountable for it. >> reporter: the question the mcnairs are now asking -- did walmart, the largest truck operator in the country, keep proper track of roper's hours? >> they have to make sure that their drivers are doing so in a responsible manner. and that means making sure your drivers are not driving in a way that they're dangerous. >> reporter: walmart says it is "cooperating fully in the ongoing investigation" and that "if it's determined that our truck caused the accident, walmart will take full responsibility." despite the huge toll caused by trucking accidents -- the industry trade group maintains that safety is a top priority. >> two thirds of accidents involving commercial vehicles are actually caused by a vehicle other than the commercial vehicle.
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>> driving a semi-tractor like this, any small mistake can take a life. >> reporter: out here on the road, trucker abe attallah says so many companies put unrelenting pressure on drivers to deliver loads on time. >> there are the circumstances where companies and, and drivers will put money ahead of safety. >> reporter: and attallah says he found that out firsthand on a frigid february night this year. the trucker with the spotless record was in the middle of a 400-mile run to wisconsin, hauling a load of tomatoes for his company, k&b. all of a sudden, he says, he notices himself drifting dangerously into a type of unconsciousness that truckers call "micro sleeping." >> basically, your eyes are open, your hands are on the wheel, but your brain shuts off for three to five seconds. >> reporter: attallah says he was so worried that he might cause an accident, he pulled into a truck stop and called the k&b dispatchers. >> hey, man, we got a bit of a
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problem, dude. i'm starting to fall asleep going down the road here. >> reporter: but get a load of this -- the k&b dispatchers instead of telling him to just get some rest, hot potato abe from one dispatcher to another. each of them with the same advice -- >> get some coffee, 'cause we don't have a choice on this. did you drink some coffee? walk around the truck, do something? >> i already did that earlier, man. >> reporter: now the last dispatcher is relentless, even refusing to listen to attallah. >> let's get out and get some fresh air, what is it, about 10 degrees outside? that'll wake you right up, right? i can get you all fired up, if you want me to make you angry i can get you woke up that way. >> he's not getting your goat? >> no, i knew before i made the phone call i was not moving that truck anymore until i got some sleep. >> i'm telling you, i'm not safe to drive, at the moment. >> okay, well then here's the deal, we don't have a choice on this. that's not how it works here at k&b. >> i say i'm not gonna hurt anybody out here on the road. >> you know what? you don't need to jump to that. that's dramatic [ bleep ] i don't need this morning, right? >> you are being honest. and he is saying, "well, that's
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dramatic bullcrap, i don't need this." >> yeah. i mean, it was very clear at that point that he just cared about that load and making that money. >> reporter: but the dispatcher still isn't through. listen as he now ups the ante -- threatening to dock attallah's pay. >> you wonder where your paycheck went this week? you know, it came down to where it went tonight. are we clear on that? >> yes, we are clear. >> okay, i don't know if you have a wife at home, and she's gonna ask you "hey, what happened this week?" >> reporter: finally k&b agrees to send another driver to rescue the load of tomatoes so attallah can finally get some sleep. and ultimately the company didn't dock his pay. k&b refused to talk to us about how its dispatchers handled attallah's case. but we did get a very clear response from the head of the trucking lobby -- >> well, the driver was obviously doing the right thing. and the dispatcher was obviously doing the wrong thing. there's just too much at stake when you have a commercial vehicle going down the nation's highways with a fatigued driver. >> reporter: attallah decided to quit k&b a few months ago.
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he's still driving a truck, hauling loads between the booming oil shale fields of western pennsylvania. he now says he's proud of exposing one of the industry's biggest dangers and of keeping his record and his conscience clean. >> this is the side of trucking that people never see. you know, this is the kind of treatment that drivers have been putting up with for so long, because we know that our jobs are on the line here. >> next, cars wiped out. playing chicken with speeding trains. close calls and crashes posted online. but what about the train they never saw coming, because the signals were obscured? killer crossing, when we come back.
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we're going to turn to another danger on america's roadways, we've all come to a
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train crossing. what happens if the warning are obscured? here's debra roberts. >> reporter: admit it. you've probably thought about it -- maybe even done it. despite the clanging bells and those gates intended as barriers. an inner speed demon can take over -- rushing, scrambling, dodging -- all with one reckless idea, beating the oncoming train. >> the most common thing -- they don't want to wait, they go around the gates. >> reporter: alan smith has seen it all. a fanatic for trains, he posts some of those daredevils on his youtube site, millennium force. >> now, that's an [ bleep ]. >> reporter: all too often, the fast and the curious end up like this. though these drivers survived, the videos all over the internet paint a dark picture. when a train hits a car, it's like a car hitting a soda can. government statistics say trains collided with vehicles more than
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2,000 times last year, nearly 250 people killed, another 1,000 injured. many involved freight trains. >> oh, damn! >> she's gonna hit a train. >> reporter: check out this car chase in utah. police couldn't stop this woman, but 8,000 tons of train did -- twice. >> she just hit the train. the train hit her. >> reporter: down in houston, this daring driver makes a last ditch attempt to cross. and in florida, this frantic conductor does his best to stop to no avail. the driver got out just in time. >> your heart starts beating as the engineer throws the train into emergency. you just know there's going to be a collision. you sit there wondering, "why didn't you pay attention to the gates?" >> reporter: it's an obvious question. but before you put the blame on clueless drivers, hit the brakes. just ask betsy deval. >> greer is just full of train
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tracks. just full of them. >> reporter: still haunted by her accident. though you'd never miss these tracks during daylight, at night here's what betsy saw. lost and confused, she got stuck on a crossing in rural south carolina. no idea that a train was barreling down on her. with only seconds to flee, she froze. >> when i realized there was just no way my car was going to make it off those tracks, i think i panicked and went into shock. >> reporter: a phenomenon called the freeze response -- a natural reaction where a person under duress is literally paralyzed by fear. thankfully, a nearby police officer quickly came to her rescue. >> just to think that in an instant my life could have been just taken without any warning.
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thank you. you saved me. >> reporter: and here in tempe, arizona, a train had just passed when brandon stovall started to drive across the tracks. he didn't see the second train coming. >> it was just like if someone were to walk next to your car and hit you with a baseball bat in the head. >> reporter: he was cited for crossing before the arm was fully raised. but the real issue? >> there was a sensor on the track that stopped working which allowed the arms to raise up when a train was coming through the intersection and it should have been down. >> reporter: a deadly yet common complaint. gates should work like clockwork and stay down when trains are approaching. but stovall has proof that doesn't always happen. he shot video two weeks later. the gate's down, the train passes. as soon as it raises again,
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another train. malfunctioning signals are one thing. in other places, they're out of commission. >> they've installed a set of gates and lights, but there's bags on top of the lights. >> reporter: new lights that aren't activated? unbelievable to vicky and denny moore, who are determined to blow the whistle on faulty train crossings. >> as you can see, you've got all this vegetation and all these trees blocking a driver's view. and you're not required to stop at this crossing. >> it only says yield. >> and our contention has always been, how can you yield to something you can't see? >> reporter: which is exactly what happened to vicky moore's 17-year-old son ryan, killed at this crossing, the second such death that month. the moores were awarded $5 million from the train company, which put up these barriers and new signals. >> it looks perfectly safe. >> i get angry. i get angry when i come here now
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and i see these gates. >> why? >> because had there been gates that day that our kids came down that hill, the accident would have never happened. >> reporter: their millions went to a foundation, angels on track, which hopes to prevent other devastating train collisions -- an uphill battle, given that only 35% of crossings have flashing lights and gates according to the government. i would think it's to the railroad company's advantage to have these things. i think they'd want these at every crossing. >> they're making less money. >> so, you're saying the railroad companies would just as soon not have all these >> correct. >> the railroads share ownership with every crossing in this country. why aren't they sharing responsibility for making sure that all these crossings are safe and protected with gates? >> reporter: a tangled web of bureaucracy that infuriates the moores. so, when there are problems, who's to blame -- the rail lines or the government? you may not like the what this government funded safety advocate has to say.
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>> at every crossing there is a blue emergency notification sign and it has a 1-800 number. >> but if that gate malfunctioned and you were the one driving, kind of a little late to make a call. >> no, it isn't. get away from the car, and find a way to contact the rail road and your local police. >> if you make it! >> yes, if you make it. >> reporter: ultimately, your safety is up to you. so, drive carefully. and look both ways, so you don't end up like this. >> next, the town that dreaded their commute home, because that's when a sniper was picking off cars and drivers. so, how do you get inside the mind of a madman? to catch him, when road to ruin continues.
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"20/20" continues with road to ruin. here's jim avila. >> reporter: a different kind of neon is about to scare drivers off the streets. it's march 18th and a green dodge like this one is gearing up for three weeks of mayhem. the car is headed for the highway and that's bad news for anyone in its way. because there's someone driving around kansas city who thinks he's got license to kill. 8:30 on a wednesday evening, a car is headed down interstate 70, the heartland's central east-west artery. the driver hears two loud pops and doesn't think much of it, until blood starts gushing from his leg.
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>> ten short minutes later, it happened again. >> reporter: when it happens again, it's salesman tom mcfarlin who is under attack. >> and i hear what sounds like what would be a rock hit the car. >> reporter: his ford fusion struck on the passenger side with the bullets lodging in the metal. >> over time, it hits you. someone shot a bullet at you when i was driving down the road. >> reporter: and the bullets keep flying. >> an investigation into that terrifying rash of highway shootings, police now saying the number of cars shot is at least up to 20. >> reporter: as motorists are peppered with gunfire, the nation takes notice and the locals take cover. >> i'm driving around this town all the time, my kids, my grandkids. they gotta stop these folks. >> it makes me really mad, who
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just drives by and shoots at someone's car? >> people were very afraid, because these shootings were happening on suburban highways during rush hour. >> reporter: as the former crime reporter for the "kansas city star," christine vendel says thistory changed driving patterns and perceptions. >> people started altering their behavior and avoiding highways. >> these were not targeted shootings, right? >> right. that heightened the fear factor, the randomness, but there was no pattern to the victims. they were different vehicles, different genders of victims, different ages. >> reporter: with a city in panic and a police force baffled speculation rules the day. did detectives feel the pressure? >> in this case, it's just -- it's so lacking initially with information, i think, that it would become very frustrating. >> reporter: criminologist john hamilton knows from what he speaks. he spent 27 years with the kansas city police department. he says job one is to find a pattern. >> commonalities of victims -- locations, anything where you might be able to see where there
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is something that you can kind of home in on. >> i don't usually travel this road. >> reporter: that pattern started to emerge with cases like jennie baugher's. just like tom, she heard that telltale noise. >> it sounded like a giant rock. the bullet dislodged and rolled down the door panel. >> reporter: like the other victims, this mother of two did not see the shooter but some eyewitnesses say they saw a green dodge neon lurking in the next lane. >> the police described the behavior as "pacing." like he would pace and loiter in their blind spot, so he could see them and get his plan together. >> that's when he's made his decision. he gets the gun ready. >> reporter: and after the shots are fired, the gunman uses a low tech but ingenious getaway plan. >> in many cases there was also, near an exit ramp, right? >> a couple of victims, said, "i was committed to the ramp."
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and so i can't very well slow down and maybe chase you because i'm committed to the ramp. >> reporter: that's how another pattern emerges -- >> most of these cases did occur in a pretty similar geographic area. in kansas city, it used to be called the grandview triangle. >> reporter: the grandview triangle, a twisted pretzel of a roadway with onramps and exits galore. a perfect spot for the shooter to play his deadly game. and now the city is on the edge of panic. >> there was a lot of fear. there was people that they wouldn't go through the grandview triangle, they'd take alternate routes. >> when you find out it was not isolated, what was that like? >> then it was a little scarier because i remember the days of the d.c. sniper. >> reporter: could this be a copycat of the d.c. sniper? it was a father-son team who terrorized for three weeks back in 2002. shooting from inside a chevy
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customized to kill. everyone's got questions. no one has answers. with three drivers wounded and potential targets everywhere, the feds are called in to join the hunt. >> well, we had talked to some experts who had speculated that the gunman would end up being a lone male in his 20s. >> reporter: when we return -- inside the mind of the highway shooter. a twisted road for sure. and where it leads will shock everybody.
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a broader mix of energies, world needs which is why we are supplying natural gas, to generate cleaner electricity, that has around 50% fewer co2 emissions than coal.
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and why with our partner in brazil, we are producing a biofuel made from renewable sugarcane to fuel cars. let's broaden the world's energy mix, let's go. we continue with "20/20." once again, jim avila and the kansas city sniper. >> the reward is up and so are the number of cases being linked to the roadway shootings investigation. >> reporter: as the mystery of
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the kansas city highway shooter deepens, the city's motorists are looking over their shoulders. >> it's been nerve-racking. >> reporter: the shooter is still on the loose. and why he is terrorizing this quiet city remains a mystery. >> oftentimes offenders will do it for a sense of power. "these people fear me, but they don't know me." until they stop me, i'll continue to do this. >> and they get a thrill over it by driving around and choosing who will live and who will die. >> reporter: while cops are making some progress, they decide to deputize an entire community and ask for the public's help. >> anyone with information is asked to call the tips hotline. >> reporter: the reward money is up to $10,000 and apparently, money talks. the tips start pouring in. witnesses paint a creepy, mysterious description of the shooter. >> the shooter was described as wearing a black hoodie, a gray hoodie, cloth covering his face, and a ski mask at times. >> reporter: a woman calls in saying she saw the green dodge
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and she adds a crucial detail. >> she was able to get a full license plate number, and that was a huge break in the case. >> to have something like that, just come in out of the blue, i can imagine there's joy in the squad room. >> reporter: police run down that license number. illinois plate g86 5203. it comes back to an edward whitaker, of illinois. a divorced father of four, who claims he recently paid for the plates for a white buick he gave to his son. that's confusing to cops, who are searching for a green neon. nevertheless, they finally have a name. so who is this masked man? cops says he's 27-year-old mohammed whitaker. this is his profile picture on facebook. cell phone in one hand, energy drink in the other. could he also be carrying a .38? >> his high school classmates didn't notice anything unusual.
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>> he seems to be a friendly kind of guy. >> reporter: as the profilers predicted, the suspect is a male in his 20s, but he has no violent criminal past. he has a job doing medical billing and collections. according to family members he's never even fired a gun, much less owned one. >> normal kid, no problems. just like all kids, he wanted a car and his dad bought him a car. >> reporter: but this "normal kid" is proving to be a bit of a chameleon. he likes to be called pedro, he signed up for cell phone service using the name "mo mo" and by the time cops come up with mohammed whitaker's address, he's already moved out. yes, dodge seems to be taking on a whole new meaning as whitaker continues to elude police. but authorities now realize they'll find their man when they can find that car. >> when they got that license plate from the witness from the erratic driver, they plugged it into the system and were able to get a match in several different
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areas of the city, that eventually led them to mohammed whitaker's residences. >> reporter: they go high-tech. a license plate reader, scanning every single license plate that passes. it can also be used to go back in time. every time a plate has been captured, the data is stored. license plate g86 5203 had been picked up by police about eight months earlier on a street where whitaker used to live. >> then when they were able to drive by, they did see that that plate was on another type of car. >> reporter: once on a white buick, a week earlier on a silver chevy. and now, the discovery that breaks the case. the plate is on a third car and bingo, it's a green dodge neon. the suspicious plate is being moved from car to car. there's also another disturbing detail. >> the district officers who
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worked that area remembered a shooting about six months prior. and they remembered that the trajectory of the bullet that ended up in a neighbor's house came from the area of the home where mohammed had lived. >> reporter: the .380-caliber bullet from that crime matched 11 bullets recovered from victims of the highway shootings. and more bullets turn up. a motorcyclist who dropped a cell phone is searching for it along a roadway. he kicks a walmart bag and uncovers empty ammo boxes and some spent shell casings. >> they find a fingerprint on the bag that matches mohammed whitaker. >> reporter: cops finally do locate whitaker. but they stay in surveillance mode. the suspect's next destination, the parking lot of a bass pro shop to meet a private gun dealer. police say he was out to improve his aim. >> while the police were watching him, they saw him trying to buy, apparently, some better weaponry with a laser sight.
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>> reporter: then, he crosses three lanes of traffic. and nearly runs someone off the road. >> i don't thinkhey were ready to arrest him, but they felt like they had to when he, that final night, crossed over three lanes of traffic and almost ran someone off the road. >> reporter: in the end, there is no struggle. >> today mohammed whitaker is charged as a criminal defendant in 18 felony charges. >> well, just from looking at him the first time we all saw him, he seemed very humble and confused, and just cast his eyes downward. >> reporter: whitaker denies all charges and in fact says he too was a victim of the kansas city highway shooter. inside his home, cops say they found drawers holding live rounds of ammo, a .380 caliber handgun, as well as a closet
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with sunglasses and black hoodies. what remains a mystery, is why the shooter went ballistic in the first place. >> i was lucky. i could have been shot. >> reporter: for tom mcfarlin and the others, a sense of relief, they're no longer moving targets. and a sense of pride in a community that demonstrate dun... dun... dun... du naaa...dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun... dun... dun... du naaaa dun dun daaaa daaaaa daaaaaa...
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freshen your perspective with a variety of litter solutions at petsmart. now save on new fresh step® ultra care™ litter. petsmart® tonight, a first look at what's coming one week from this evening. a special one-hour "20/20." a 12-year-old girl whose bravery, we will never forget. >> next friday, david muir
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reporting. a survival story so unbelievable, a 12-year-old. >> going to go roller skating. >> took a horrifying turn. >> do you think she had any idea what she was walking into? >> no. >> why would two 12-year-old girls try to kill their friend, stab them 19 times? >> they told police they wanted to kill the victim so people would know slenderman was real. >> how do you wrap your heads around that? >> chilling details from the family. and how she fought off death. >> where on earth do you think she got the strength? >> i hugged her and said, you're
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going to be fine. but she was covered in stab wounds. ♪ >> come along with david muir and for the first time, meet a 12-year-old you will never forget. >> she's definitely our hero. >> prepare to be amazed. and a message to parents around
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