CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Trucker Earl Robert Hood didn't know his identity had been stolen until his commercial driver's license was suspended in 2008 for four DUIs he never committed.
He promptly lost his job and many of his possessions and saw his marriage end in divorce. Now he wants other truckers to learn from his experience.
Hood traveled to Wyoming from his home in Illinois to testify against 47-year-old Danny Arnold Rodgers, who was convicted last week of stealing Hood's identity.
"It was just hard to sit there in that room with him, knowing what he'd done to me and my family," Hood said. "It's not just me that it affected; it affected all four of my children, too. Because for two years, they didn't have Christmas."
Prosecutors say Rodgers stole Hood's identity before going on a three-state drunken driving spree in July 2008, racking up four DUIs in less than two weeks. Using Hood's name, prosecutors say, Rodgers was cited July 4 in Mitchell, S.D.; July 7 in Deadwood, S.D.; July 8 in Wheatland; and July 13 in Otoe County, Neb.
Deputy Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Buchanan said authorities believe Rodgers is originally from Chicago. Rodgers faces more than 30 years in prison when Eighth Judicial District Judge John C. Brooks sentences him for forgery, identity theft and misdemeanor crimes in coming weeks, Buchanan said.
The Associated Press published an article in 2008 about the string of DUI arrests that authorities then incorrectly attributed to Hood. The article focused on how it was possible for a driver to be treated repeatedly as a first-time DUI offender, despite being arrested for the same offense days earlier in different jurisdictions.
Hood says Rodgers stole not just his name, but his life.
Hood, 47, of Tilton, Ill., said he didn't know his identity had been stolen until his license was suspended. Without a license, truck drivers can't work.
"I've lost everything," Hood said. "It just completely wiped me out."
He said he's fallen behind on his house payments and lost his Dodge Durango and furniture he was paying for in installments.
Hood said he met Rodgers in early 2008 at a truck stop in Florida, where Hood stopped to fuel the rig he was driving for a Texas company. Hood said Rodgers approached him and told him he used to drive for the same firm.
Hood said Rodgers claimed to operate a small trucking company and offered him a job, promising more pay and more time at home.
After accepting Rodgers' offer, Hood gave Rodgers copies of his commercial driver's license and U.S. Department of Transportation medical card so Rodgers could deliver them to his insurance company. Hood said it's routine for truckers to turn over such information to prospective employers.
"I never dreamed in a million years that the guy would take my information and do something like this," he said.
Hood learned while trying to find work in Texas that his license was suspended. Unable to get a job, he moved to Illinois, where he had family.
He contacted the Platte County attorney's office in late 2008 to try clear his name, but said he never suspected Rodgers. In the meantime, Hood was briefly jailed when police pulling him over for minor traffic offenses learned his license was suspended.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol investigated Hood's report. Buchanan said the FBI soon matched fingerprints from the DUI arrest in Wheatland to Rodgers.
Rodgers was arrested in Louisiana last year and extradited to Platte County, Buchanan said.
Eric Jones, Platte County attorney, said Friday that Rodgers was convicted of similar charges in Georgia. Jones didn't know if other states would seek to prosecute Rodgers on the DUI charges.
Kerri Mae Johnson, with the state public defender's office, represented Rodgers at trial. She declined to comment on the case Monday.
Hood said he got back his commercial driver's license early this year but has still had trouble finding work. He said Platte County prosecutors gave him a letter to show prospective employers explaining he was the victim of identity theft.
"I'm going to keep searching for a good job driving a truck," Hood said. "It's been hard. It's (taken) me from being on top of the world to being on welfare."
Hood advises fellow truckers to make sure prospective employers are legitimate before handing over any documents.
"And try to stay away from the smaller trucking companies unless you've got good verification that they are legit," he added.