A truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel turned out to be the tip of the iceberg for investigators at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), who found that both the trucker and his employer had multiple safety violations – some of which led to a fatal crash.
J & L Trucking of a Beatrice, Alabama-based trucking company – a.k.a. Jeffery Finklea – was declared pose an imminent hazard to public safety and ordered to immediately cease all interstate and intrastate operations after a federal investigation. The company operates two trucks transporting general freight.
A head-on collision
The safety issues came to light on March 28, 2017 when a truck operated by J & L Trucking crossed the centerline on Alabama’s State Highway 13 in Fayette County, colliding head-on with a passenger vehicle and fatally injuring both of its occupants.
The J & L Trucking driver admitted to Alabama Department of Public Safety officers that he had fallen asleep while driving. State law enforcement investigators at the crash scene found that the driver did not possess his records-of-duty-status for the preceding seven days and had no valid medical certificate, both required by federal safety regulations. In addition, the state investigators found multiple violations on the J & L Trucking vehicle, including unsafe, worn tires, and oil and grease leaks.
Company flunked 9 out of 12 inspections
A post-crash investigation conducted by FMCSA safety investigators further found the company to be in violation of multiple federal safety statutes and regulations, including:
* Failing to ensure that its vehicles were regularly inspected, maintained, repaired and met minimum safety standards. During FMCSA’s investigation, J & L Trucking officials could not produce any maintenance files or records, including copies of roadside inspections or vehicle repair receipts showing that vehicle out-of-service defects had been repaired. The company owner claimed he conducted periodic inspections and serviced the brakes of the vehicles – although he was not qualified to perform those functions. In the past 24 months, J & L Trucking vehicles were subjected to 12 unannounced roadside safety inspections; on nine occasions, the truck was ordered out-of-service for serious safety violations ranging from inoperative required lights, unsafe, worn tires, oil and grease leaks, damaged or discolored windshield, to missing or defective brake warning components.
* Failing to properly monitor its drivers to ensure compliance with maximum hours-of-service requirements prohibiting fatigued operation of commercial motor vehicles. During FMCSA’s investigation, J & L Trucking officials could not produce any records-of-duty-status for two of its three drivers. One driver admitted he was unfamiliar with filling out a driver’s log book – and had never done so. Another driver said he insisted on turning in his records-of-duty-status, but J & L Trucking officials failed to review them for compliance with federal safety regulations.
* 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. During FMCSA’s investigation, J & L Trucking officials could not produce any driver qualification file with the requisite employment application, medical certificate, driver road test certificate, state motor vehicle record, prior employer inquiry or record of violations. The one employment application the company’s officials did provide was found to be fraudulent.
FMCSA’s investigation found that J & L Trucking’s inadequate FMCSA’s investigation found that J & L Trucking’s inadequate vehicle maintenance program, its failure to ensure its drivers were qualified and its failure to monitor its drivers for compliance with federal safety regulations “…substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death for its drivers and the motoring public if the operations of J & L Trucking are not discontinued immediately.”
Penalties could include criminal prosecution
J & L Trucking may be assessed civil penalties of up to $25,705 for each violation of the out-of-service order. The carrier may also be assessed civil penalties of not less than $10,282 for providing transportation requiring federal operating authority registration and up to $14,502 for operating a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce without necessary USDOT registration. If violations are determined to be willful, criminal penalties may be imposed, including a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for a term 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.