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Bill could ban 'Carolina Squat' modification after Virginia father's death

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Posted at 11:25 AM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 11:25:41-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- State lawmakers took action Thursday that could lead to a ban on modified "Carolina Squat" trucks from Virginia's roads -- a push that followed a deadly crash last month in Mecklenburg County that left a 27-year-old man dead.

The Senate Committee on Transportation voted unanimously to pass SB 777 that would ban any "passenger car or pickup or panel truck" from public roads if it has been modified to raise the front bumper four inches or higher than the rear bumper. Lawmakers also added an emergency clause to the bill -- so, if the bill is passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin it would take effect immediately, rather than waiting until July 1.

A "Carolina Squat" truck is one that has been modified to raise the front end of the vehicle higher than the rear.

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27-year-old Jody "BJ" Upton was tragically killed in a Mecklenburg County crash

Efforts to ban the truck were started by the family of BJ Upton, 27, who died in a Feb. 16, 2022 crash in Mecklenburg County. Upton died after his truck was hit by another truck traveling in the other direction crossed over the center line and crashed into his.

"The truck was smashed…Completely, almost like in a ball and it was like indented within the ditch," said Upton's future sister-in-law, Ann Taylor Kallam, who arrived at the scene shortly after it happened. "It was just a horrific sight."

The driver of the other truck, Anthony Newcomb of Chase City, 19, sustained minor injuries in the crash. Newcomb was charged with reckless driving.

Kallam said Newcomb's truck was a "Carolina Squat" and the family believes those modifications played a big role in the deadly outcome of the crash.

"We can't help but think, what if it was another vehicle? What if? What if that truck that hit him wasn't squatted? What if the truck wasn't squatted and the guy could actually see the road?" said Kallam.

Virginia State Police said they are investigating whether alleged modifications were a contributing factor in the crash.

Since the deadly crash, Upton's family has pushed for the modification to be banned from Virginia's roads. A similar ban went into effect in North Carolina last year and lawmakers in South Carolina are considering a ban during this year's legislative session.

The "Carolina Squat" is already illegal in Virginia, but it's considered a secondary offense, meaning police can't pull over the driver of a vehicle with the modification unless they are doing something else illegal.

Hopes were first pinned on a bill that was already making its way through the legislative channels. The bill would make “Carolina Squats” and other traffic violations, like broken tail lights and tinted windows, primary offenses, meaning police could stop the drivers of those vehicles. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mark Ruff (R - Clarksville), told CBS 6 he believed the bill would make Virginia roads safer, but some critics believe pretextual policing could lead to racial profiling.

That bill was passed indefinitely by a Senate committee last week.

This week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a new bill just addressing "Carolina Squat" trucks. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mark Peake (R - Lynchburg), said they were spurred on by the Mecklenburg crash.

"I think everybody saw the tragedy, and nobody wants to see that continue. So I hope that we will rally around this legislation to get these vehicles off Virginia's highways," added Peake.

Kallam said the family is doing as best they can in the weeks since the crash and efforts to ban the modification have given them a lot of hope.

"You can take your grief and you can take your heartbreak and you can turn it into negativity or you can do something positive with it," said Kallam. "I think that the family knows that and that's exactly what they're trying to do. And by passing this bill, that is one way to ensure that here in Virginia, somebody else's life won't be lost due to a 'Carolina Squat' truck. And I think we have lost one too many lives when we lost BJ to that."