A Florida company that transports both agricultural workers and fresh produce failed to ensure that its bus drivers were actually licensed, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which has ordered its fleet off the road.
Billy R. Evans Harvesting, Inc., has been declared by FMCSA to be an imminent hazard to public safety, after a federal investigation that found numerous violations. The company operates a dozen passenger buses for transporting agricultural workers and six trucks for hauling fresh produce from harvesting fields to processing plants.
Four passengers killed in crash
Federal scrutiny came after the July 2, 2016 crash that occurred when a passenger bus operated by Billy R. Evans Harvesting failed to stop at an intermittent red light and struck another commercial vehicle which possessed the right-of-way. Both vehicles caught fire. Four bus passengers, including a four-year-old child and the driver of the other commercial vehicle, were killed. Twenty-four of the other passengers were injured.
A post-crash investigation conducted by FMCSA safety investigators in coordination with the Florida Highway Patrol found the company to be in violation of multiple federal safety statutes and regulations including:
- Failing to comply with any driver qualification requirements, including ensuring that its drivers were properly licensed and physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
- Failing to retain records of driving violations and involvement in crashes by its drivers as required by federal regulations. On January 27, 2016, a bus driver for Billy R. Evans Harvesting was involved in an injury crash after similarly failing to obey a flashing yellow light; FMCSA investigators discovered Billy R. Evans Harvesting had no knowledge and possessed no records of the January 2016 crash.
- Failing to implement a random alcohol and drug testing program for its drivers.
- Failing to ensure that its vehicles were regularly inspected, maintained, repaired, and met minimum safety standards. All of the commercial vehicles inspected during the investigation were placed out-of-service. The safety defects discovered included lighting failures, improper vehicle markings, missing or inoperative emergency equipment, oil and grease leaks, exhaust discharge violations, and unsecured passenger seats.
- Failing to properly monitor its drivers to ensure compliance with hours-of-service requirements prohibiting fatigued operation of commercial motor vehicles.
- Failing to register with FMCSA as an interstate carrier.
Disregard for safety regulations
The post-crash investigation found that Billy R. Evans Harvesting operated with “significantly inadequate basic safety management controls.” FMCSA’s imminent hazard out-of-service order to Billy R. Evans Harvesting further states that the company’s “operation of commercial motor vehicles and flagrant and fleet-wide disregard for (federal safety regulations)…substantially increased the risk of serious injury or death to the motoring public.”
Violating an imminent hazard out-of-service order may result in a penalty of up to $25,000, operating without necessary authority may result in a fine of not less than $10,000, and operating without a USDOT number may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000. A violation of this order may also result in a criminal penalty, including a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment not to exceed one year.
FMCSA is also considering civil penalties for the safety violations discovered during the investigation and may refer this matter for criminal prosecution.