Federal Investigators Focus on Trucking Company for Alleged “Chameleon” Operations following Fatal Highway Accident

As a highly regulated industry, one would expect that all commercial trucking firms would follow the laws of the state, as well as federal regulations, yet it is sometimes frightening to find that some of these operations are not always run in a safe and proper fashion. By this we mean to say that, from time to time, a commercial trucking company may cut corners to the point of reduced safety of their vehicles and possibly poor choices in terms of who they choose to drive those large trucks.

Of course, anyone who reads the newspaper or watches the evening news will note from time to time that trucking-related traffic accidents can be traced back to poorly maintained vehicle equipment or questionable employee screening. As Baltimore personal injury lawyers, I and my colleagues have seen the result of accidents that may have been caused by improperly maintained vehicles or truck drivers who may have been impaired — either through drugs or alcohol, or due to drowsiness resulting from excessive service hours and insufficient sleep.

Having seen the kind of injuries inflicted on innocent victims by events surrounding bad trucking-related traffic accidents, it is not hard to understand why the government will shut a commercial firm down after many instances of safety infractions and, possibly, fatal or near-fatal car, truck or motorcycle crashes involving a big rig, semi or large commercial box truck.

When a trucking firm has been found to have broken state laws or flouted federal trucking regulations enough times, it is likely that it will be legally forced to cease doing business. For the average person, seeing this kind of action against a company that has demonstrated it is not trustworthy to operate large and potentially dangerous motor vehicles on public roads, it is understandable to imagine that what is done is done. That is, in a manner of speaking, the bad apple would have been thrown away, never to be seen again.

Would if this were true every time, but not always. There have been instances where a commercial trucking carrier has been ordered to cease business, yet its principals only start another company — many times using the same old practices — a while later; essentially subverting the legal measures that were meant to keep that company from operating and to keep the public safe in the long run. These kinds of “reincarnated” trucking firms are known in the industry as chameleons, because they end up morphing into a “new” firm under a new name and then resume business in another location.

A case in point occurred not long ago. According to news articles, federal investigators began to look into a trucking company that allegedly employed a California truck driver who was charged last year in a fatal highway accident that killed a Maryland woman and her daughter back in November 2012. Based on news reports, officials were very concerned that the company that owned the truck and employed the 44-year-old trucker may have actually been one of those so-called chameleon carriers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was investigating a commercial carrier owned and operated by Igor Parfenov. According to reports, Parfenov had registered the trucking company under his own name but was doing business under the name DC Transport. At the time of the deadly accident in southwestern Pennsylvania, DC Trucking was authorized to operate six trucks.

The probe by federal regulators may have helped to shut the company down as records at the time of the news report showed the company had ceased operations. Strangely, the owner had filed an “out-of-business” notification with the FMCSA voluntarily revoking of the company’s operating authority. Even stranger was the change in business address. According to the news article at the time, the latest address for the company was apparently at a warehouse in a West Sacramento, CA. But at the time of the fatal accident in November the business address for that company was reportedly a $26,000 mobile home in South Carolina.

The accident which started the whole investigation involved a tractor-trailer carrying a load of rock salt to Denver on I-70. Police stated that the vehicle was speeding when it crossed over the median and hit the victims’ vehicle head-on. A further investigation found that the vehicle’s brakes were also not very well maintained. The driver, Yevgeniy Bugreyev, was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide as well as other offenses.

According to news reports, DC Transport had a record of unsafe driving by its drivers over the past couple years, including one other crash and citations for tailgating and speeding. Records also indicated hours-of-service violations in which company drivers occasionally drove longer than permitted by law. Poorly kept log books and poorly maintained vehicles were also cited as violations by the firm.

A comment by the National Association of Small Trucking Companies indicated that DC Trucking may have been one of those companies that shuts down operations, moves and then starts under a new name in order to avoid being associated with their former troubles or sometimes to avoid penalties from regulators. According to the Government Accounting Office, in 2010 officials found more than 1,000 freight applicants with what they referred to as “chameleon attributes” out of a total 65,631 applications.

Trucking firm DC Transport in Interstate 70 fatal crash evades feds’ probe, TribLive.com, December 22, 2012

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