Trucking Firm May Be Fined, Closed
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Citing what they call "critical" violations, federal transportation authorities said yesterday that they plan to take legal action against a New Jersey trucking company linked to a fatal Capital Beltway crash in Prince George's County, which could result in fines and the shutdown of the firm.
The move marks the fourth time in 16 years that B.K. Trucking or its predecessor company have received "unsatisfactory" ratings because of alleged failure to follow federal trucking regulations. In that time, B.K. Trucking has come under federal review nine times, including twice when regulators said its accident rate exceeded federal standards.
The companies were fined more than $55,000 for those violations but avoided being shut down because until a change in truck-safety enforcement laws in 2000, regulating agencies lacked the authority to close a company for an unsatisfactory rating, federal officials said.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials said yesterday that B.K. Trucking now faces penalties for a host of "critical" violations, including allowing a driver to drive on a suspended license, falsifying records, failing to check drivers' backgrounds and failing to properly test drivers for drugs and alcohol. The southern New Jersey company could be fined up to $77,000 and shut down if it does not comply with regulations, said Bill Quade, director of the agency's compliance and enforcement division.
"We consider the violations we found quite serious," Quade said.
B.K. Trucking President Brian Kargman and attorneys for the company did not return calls yesterday. A company cited for violations can appeal the decision.
Federal transportation authorities launched the latest audit of B.K. Trucking's operations three days after the tractor-trailer that Roger C. Scofield Jr. was driving for the company March 19 in Prince George's slammed into the rear of a car, then smashed into two others. One man was killed, and two were injured.
FMCSA officials said B.K. Trucking was placed on a "high-risk" watch list late last year after being involved in at least three accidents. A trucking company is determined by the agency to be high risk if it is involved in more than 1.5 accidents per 1 million miles logged by its fleet.
The April 9 audit found that B.K. Trucking kept "incomplete" files on drivers' backgrounds and that it was involved in six major accidents within the past year, including the one on the Beltway. Three were "clearly preventable," and the drivers were cited for violations in all three cases, according to the report. FMCSA gave the company, whose 23 drivers logged about 1.8 million miles within the time frame, an "unsatisfactory" rating based on its accident ratio, according to the report and agency officials.
The rating means that the trucking company, which, according to the audit, reported about $3.3 million in gross revenue last year, could be barred from operating unless it is able to show compliance with federal rules within 60 days of official notification about the rating. FMCSA officials said B.K. Trucking was notified of its findings "within a few days" of completion of the April audit.
In the Beltway accident, Maryland State Police said Scofield's tractor-trailer hit a 1995 Honda Accord from behind, then struck a 1994 Acura Integra that was moving slowly with its hazard lights on and a 1996 Nissan Altima. The Altima's driver, Jose Marcos Portillo Villalta, 33, of the Riverdale area, was killed; the drivers of the Honda and the Acura were injured.
Police charged Scofield, 54, with reckless driving and driving on a suspended license. The investigation into the crash continues.
A Washington Post review of court records last month found that Scofield had racked up traffic citations in at least seven states and convictions in at least two before the Beltway accident. A B.K. safety official gave the Post varying accounts of what the company knew about Scofield's driving record.
The April audit said B.K. Trucking failed to keep complete records about drivers' backgrounds and indicated that its drivers had been "falsifying their log books on a regular basis." A close review of toll receipts and other records showed that out of 238 logs checked, 52 -- or 22 percent -- were discovered to be false, according to the April audit report.
After the fatal accident, a B.K. Trucking official said that Scofield had a 12-hour break between driving runs before the accident on the Beltway. But the audit indicates that B.K. Trucking listed Scofield as being off-duty from midnight until 4 p.m. on March 18 despite the fact that toll receipts taken from Scofield's truck indicate that he had been on the road in New Jersey starting at 1:45 a.m. the same day.
Federal law prohibits drivers from working more than 11 consecutive hours and requires them to take a 10-hour break after 11 hours on the road. Drivers are permitted to work no more than 60 hours in a week and no more than 70 hours over an eight-day period.
In a February audit conducted by FMCSA three weeks before the fatal accident, the auditor who also prepared the April report cited B.K. Trucking for allowing a driver to drive for 75 hours after having been on duty for 14 hours. The same auditor nonetheless gave the company a rating of "conditional," allowing it to continue operations without penalty. The February audit does not cite the other serious violations detailed in the April audit.
Stephen Campbell, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an association of officials responsible for the enforcement of motor carrier safety laws in North America, said the discrepancy between the audits points to a lacked of qualified investigators and systemic problems with federal oversight of truck safety rules.
"They need to examine how they staff people at the U.S. Department of Transportation,'' said Campbell, a former Louisiana state trooper. "If the same auditor was put on an audit of the company 30 days later, it would be a case of mismanagement of the highest order."
Regulators said the auditor has a good reputation and had not discovered other violations at the time of the February audit.
B.K.'s record suggests the challenges federal regulators face in enforcing safety standards for commercial vehicles.
The company has been the subject of numerous federal reviews under the names of B.K. Leasing Co. and B.K. Trucking, according to the April audit.
Quade said it is "possible" that the company could face further federal scrutiny.
"We're very interested in any activities Mr. Kargman has in the trucking industry," Quade said.