Ithaca, N.Y. — Two years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office told federal transportation officials they should use their own vast data banks more effectively to keep a closer eye on chameleon carriers.

Like the lizards that can change color, sometimes for the purpose of camouflage,  trucking companies with spotty histories seemed to be able to change colors, close down the old business and reappear with a new name. The GAO aim was to tighten scrutiny in order to identify risky newcarriers sooner.

The number of carriers with chameleon characteristics was growing quickly, the GAO noted, and those types of companies tended to have a larger number of severe crashes than companies without those qualities.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took the GAOs suggestions and prepared a report to Congress outlining steps it was taking to identify the chameleons as they apply for operating authority.

Initial confusion and a lingering mystery about the name of the company that owns the truck involved in the Simeons crash raised at least the suspicionof a chameleon carrier situation, according to John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition.

Soon after the June 20 crash, Ithaca police released the name of the owning company as Auto Star Transport, Inc., of Spokane, WA.

But The Voice examined state and federal documents that showed Auto Star to have had its operating authority involuntarily revokedearly this year by FMCSA. Federal records showed that it had no insurance coverage. Washington state records revealed that it had voluntarily dissolved as a business in April of this year.

A week after the crash, Ithaca police corrected the record and said the truck actually was owned by Quality Re-Locating Services, Inc.(It appears they meant Quality Relocations Services, Inc.,from near Spokane. Washington state records list no company named Quality Re-Locating,but do list a Quality Relocations,as do FMCSA records). State and federal records showed Quality Relocations to be operating still and to have insurance coverage of $1 million.

The company officer whose name was listed on the documents dissolving Auto Star was Dmitriy Zhelez.The name listed as the agent or officer for Quality Relocations was Dmitriy Zhelez.The man who answered the phone at the number listed for Zhelez refused to talk about the companies or the crash.

What remains a mystery is why local police initially believed and said that the owning company was Auto Star, which appears to be defunct. Officer Jamie Williamson of the IPD has said he cannot shed any light on that question.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.