Trucking firm DC Transport in Interstate 70 fatal crash evades feds' probe
Federal investigators scrutinizing the company that employed a California trucker charged in a fatal Washington County crash might be chasing a shadow, police and trucking experts say.
“There is some concern about this being a chameleon carrier. That's what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is trying to uncover,” said state police Lt. Ray Cook, director of the bureau's Commercial Vehicle Safety Division in Harrisburg.
Troubled trucking, bus or moving companies that shut down operations and attempt to start back up with new names and federal ID numbers are known as chameleons, transportation experts say. They might be looking to shed a bad reputation associated with their former name or evade possible penalties.
“This one certainly has all the attributes,” said David Owen, president of the Tennessee-based National Association of Small Trucking Companies.
Igor Parfenov, who owns the trucking company that was involved in the Nov. 24 crash, declined to comment. He referred questions to his attorney, but the phone number he provided was for a Progressive insurance agent in Pennsylvania.
Parfenov registered the company under his name but did business as DC Transport. It had authorization to operate six trucks at the time of the wreck that claimed a Maryland mother and daughter on Interstate 70 in South Strabane, according to federal records. Records updated this week show the company stopped operations.
Authorities did not put the company out of service; Parfenov submitted an “out-of-business notification” to the FMCSA on Thursday, voluntarily revoking the company's operating authority.
Updated records that were removed from the FMCSA's website on Friday also showed a new address for the company at what appears to be a warehouse in a West Sacramento, Calif., industrial area. At the time of the crash, its registered corporate address was a $26,000 mobile home in South Carolina with a disconnected phone, a non-working email account and a California fax number.
State police charged trucker Yevgeniy Bugreyev, 44, of West Sacramento with two counts of vehicular homicide and other offenses for the crash. They said his tractor-trailer hauling rock salt to Denver was speeding and had poor brakes when it veered across a median into oncoming traffic.
Bugreyev, a Russian national here legally, told a trooper that his “brain shut down” moments before the crash, police said. He is in the Washington County jail on $1 million bail.
“We're still trying to figure out what happened,” said state police Lt. Doug Bartoe.
Records for DC Transport show the company had a history of unsafe driving in the past two years, with one crash and citations for speeding and tailgating. Records also showed company drivers sometimes drove longer than allowed, kept poor logs and operated poorly maintained vehicles.
DC Transport is one of 27 trucking companies by that name in the United States and, according to the updated information, one of two operating in West Sacramento. The other DC Transport in West Sacramento has 126 trucks. The companies are less than a mile apart.
“I am sorry to hear about the fatal crash. However, even though the driver involved appears to be from West Sacramento, this is not someone who works for us, and it was not our company's truck involved in the accident,” Andrew Romanov, operations manager of the larger DC Transport, wrote in an email two days after the crash.
Romanov noted the companies' different Department of Transportation registration numbers. He has not returned calls or emails since.
Cook of the state police said he has been consulted in the investigation and has dealt with numerous chameleons in Pennsylvania.
The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, issued a 61-page report in March that said the safety administration needs to do better in identifying chameleon carriers when they register with the agency.
The report said the administration focuses its review of new applicants on two groups of interstate companies — for-hire passenger carriers and household goods carriers that include moving companies — because they “pose higher safety and consumer protection concerns.” The agency compares applicants' registration data against previously registered carriers to identify possible chameleons, the report stated.
“It does not account for the risk presented by chameleon carriers in other groups that made up 98 percent of new applicants in 2010,” including freight carriers, the GAO said.
The GAO said it found 1,082 freight applicants with “chameleon attributes” in its review of 2010 registration data, but just 54 in the two carrier groups that the safety administration vets for chameleons. It received 65,631 applications in 2010.
The safety administration said it intends to expand its vetting program to include freight carriers such as DC Transport, but it did not say when.
“They are getting better at trying to identify and track those companies, but it's a huge task,” said Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association President Jim Runk.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media He can be reached at 412-320-7847or firstname.lastname@example.org.