Trucking firm in fatal Interstate 70 crash in Washington County target of federal action
By Tom Fontaine
Published: Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Three times in the past decade, federal regulators revoked the driving privileges of a man's on-again, off-again trucking companies, one of which employed a driver accused in a fatal Washington County crash, records show.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration won't say whether it considers Igor Parfenov's Fair Oaks, Calif.-based DC Transport a “chameleon” company trying to avoid detection because of past problems. He shut down freight carrier DC Transport voluntarily after a Nov. 24 crash on Interstate 70 left two dead, four injured and one of his haulers facing homicide charges.
Parfenov did not return calls.
Officials say he would face significant scrutiny if he tried to put another company on the road because of policies that were not in place when he established DC Transport and his defunct IRA Lines of Overland Park, Kan.
“The FMCSA has a number of tools at its disposal to identify and take action against companies which seek to evade enforcement,” said agency Deputy Administrator Bill Bronrott.
He declined to comment on the investigation into the crash.
Bronrott said new carriers these days must undergo a comprehensive audit within 18 months of starting up, though DC Transport never did because it was created before the audit program, which began in 2003. In 2008, the FMCSA began vetting new applicants' registration information against data for poorly performing companies, starting with passenger carriers, then movers. The agency intends to include freight carriers, but it's unclear when.
“The FMCSA is trying desperately to get their arms around this problem, but it's difficult to do,” said David Owen, president of the Tennessee-based National Association of Small Trucking Companies.
Owen estimates regulators have the resources to perform about 14,000 comprehensive audits a year, yet more than 60,000 new freight haulers sought permission to operate just in 2010, according to FMCSA data.
The “bottom 2 to 3 percent” of more than 700,000 existing trucking companies also deserve increased scrutiny, Owen said.
Officials call some of the worst offenders “chameleons” because they close after encountering problems and pop back up with new names and federal identification numbers in an effort to shed bad reputations or evade penalties.
“I call them rag companies,” trucker Ray Houze, 67, of Rockwood, Mich., said at an I-70 truck stop about 30 miles east of last month's fatal crash. “They know exactly what they're doing, but they do it anyway. I take pride in doing my job the right way, so I don't understand it.”
“Guys like that just make things harder for everybody else,” said trucker Grosy Cooper of Memphis. “The best thing you can do is drive legal and do everything by the book.”
The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said in a March report that 5,640 trucking companies that registered with the federal government from 2005 through 2010 had “chameleon attributes,” representing about 2 percent of all new applicants. About 94 percent of those hauled freight.
The GAO report found that companies with chameleon attributes were three times as likely to be involved in severe crashes as ones without any of the attributes.
At the time of the Washington County crash, federal records show DC Transport was based at a mobile home in South Carolina with a disconnected phone, a non-working email account and a California fax number. Subsequently, Parfenov's company filed an “out-of-business notification,” and records were changed to show a Fair Oaks, Calif., address.
Before declining to answer questions from a Tribune-Review reporter this month, Parfenov said he operated DC Transport for three years.
Federal records tell a different story.
The FMCSA said Parfenov registered DC Transport with the federal government in July 2000. Licensing and insurance documents show the company's operating authority was involuntarily revoked in June 2002, though the records don't say why or by whom.
Parfenov started trucking company IRA Lines in early 2004. Regulators revoked driving privileges for IRA, which had a Sacramento-area fax number, in November 2004.
Regulators reinstated driving privileges for DC Transport in June 2007, revoked them in July 2008, then reinstated them again a week later, records show.
Since then, the company has compiled a history of unsafe driving, with two crashes — including the recent fatal one — and citations for speeding, tailgating, operating poorly maintained vehicles, exceeding driving-time limits and other violations.
FMCSA could not immediately provide details on the revocations or reinstatements, but said a company's operating authority can be revoked for various reasons, ranging from a lapsed insurance policy to serious safety violations.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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