Ithaca, N.Y. — A federal agency, citing a pattern of “serious violations” of safety regulations, has shut down the Washington-state trucking company that owned the tractor-trailer involved in the fatal crash June 20 at Simeon’s on the Commons.
The company, Quality Relocation Services, Inc., had run up one of the worst safety records among the many thousands of licensed carriers in the country, scoring worse than all but 1.2% of haulers based on recent inspections.
The order to cease operation in “interstate and intrastate” trucking, effective October 6, came in a letter from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to Dmitriy Zhelez, listed as “safety director” for Quality Relocation Services, Inc. of Spokane, WA.
Copies of the letter and supporting materials were obtained by The Voice from FMCSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The long list of violations included putting drivers back on the road too soon after long shifts, falsifying duty records of drivers, failing to pre-screen some drivers for substance abuse or allowing them on the road before test results were in, and failing to inspect and maintain the vehicles — including brake lines — to insure safe operation.
One big question the documents seem to answer is whether Zhelez would be allowed to operate under any other corporate title.
The Zhelez name is linked to at least six trucking companies in the Spokane area in recent years. The federal government has become more concerned in recent years about “chameleon carriers” that compile dismal safety records, go out of business and resurface with new corporate names.
The last paragraph of the federal order warns Zhelez, “Please be aware, this Order and Revocation of Registration may also attach and apply to the operations of successor entities, including any motor carrier entity or entities established or used to avoid the consequences of a final ‘unsatisfactory’ safety rating.”
Zhelez has been unavailable for comment. A spokesman for FMCSA said he could not comment beyond what was in the documents. Susan Eberle, a Buffalo lawyer for Zhelez, said Tuesday she is handling only the civil lawsuits against his company arising from the Simeon’s crash, and could not speak to his business status or plans.
Here are a few questions and answers about what’s in the federal documents:
1 — Do they mention the Ithaca crash?
“This investigation was generated by a fatality accident that occurred on 06/20/2014,” one of the reports states. “The carrier was unable to provide post-accident controlled substances test results or post-accident alcohol test results for the driver Mr. Viacheslav Grychanyi,” which violated federal regulations.
“The carrier also failed to prepare and maintain on file a record stating the reasons the controlled substances post-accident test and the post-accident alcohol test was not properly administered,” which violated two other regulations.
Failing to provide the tests and failing to explain why both violated FMCSA rules, in other words.
2 — Were the feds concerned about a language barrier?
They were. The documents say that investigators had read media reports from the time of the crash indicating that Grychanyi could not recognize some of the signage near the crash site, needed a Russian interpreter to talk with State Police, and spoke very little English.
They asked the company to have him submit to an interview “to determine if he could read and/or speak English.” The request for an interview was denied on advice of lawyers, according to the federal report. This was ground for further findings of violations.
3 — What is Quality Relocation Services, Inc.?
It is — or was — a Washington-based commercial trucker that brought in revenues of $1.45 million last year, with 13 trucks, 13 trailers and 39 drivers.
Dmitriy Zhelez was listed as “safety manager” for this company, and variously as president, vice president or “officer” of other trucking companies that seem to be linked to this one.
A Sergey Zhelez was listed on state and federal documents as “secretary” for all six trucking entities. Some of them had the same physical address, as the federal records note, and there were further linkages in leasing trucks from one to another.
4 — Did it have a truck inspection program?
Not one the feds found acceptable. Their investigators interviewed the man responsible for annual inspections of the Quality trucks.
This was their conclusion: He “did not seem to know there are different measurements for different size and types of brake chambers. (His) lack of knowledge to properly conduct the required annual inspections invalidated all the annual inspections he conducted.”
5 — What were those “false duty records” about?
The investigators found numerous cases in which external evidence refuted the logbook supposedly showing where a driver was at a given time.
Here are a few examples:
— The logbook showed a driver to be off duty in New Cumberland, PA. Toll records showed the same driver to be driving a rig in Harrisburg, PA.
— The logbook said a driver was in a sleeper booth in Ridgefield, N.J. Toll records placed him on duty in Newark, DE.
— The logbook showed a driver off duty in West Virginia. The toll records put him in Carlisle, PA at the same time.
The investigators said Zhelez did not sufficiently review and reconcile the log records.
6 — What about drivers going back on the road too soon?
The reports cite numerous cases in which drivers who had worked 70-hour weeks over eight straight days were put back or went back on the road too soon, or in which drivers coming off 14-hour shifts were back on the road within an hour.
7 — Was the company give a chance to get its act together?
It was. FMCSA notified Zhelez in August that it proposed this action. The company then had 60 days to resolve the issues or submit a plan to do so. Apparently, Zhelez could not convince regulators he could do it.