Tanker Involved In Bay-Area Freeway Collapse Was Cited Many Times, Records Show

Thursday, May 3rd 2007, 9:19 pm
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ The gasoline tanker that exploded this week, causing a San Francisco-area freeway ramp to collapse, was cited repeatedly for safety violations and was ordered off the road last year because of faulty brakes, according to federal records.

The tanker's owner or driver was cited 27 times since 2004 for violations ranging from its unsafe brakes and tires to carrying more gasoline than the truck was rated for, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The six-year-old tanker was incinerated in an explosion that collapsed an interstate connector to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It was owned by Sabek Transportation, a South San Francisco company that operates a fleet of eight trucks to ship gasoline between a refinery in Benicia and a string of gas stations in the Bay area.

The records obtained show Sabek's trucks have received at least 60 violations in the past three years during inspections by the California Highway Patrol. When the truck was found to have brakes that posed an imminent threat to public safety, it was held at the inspection site until they were repaired.

Three out of four inspections on Sabek trucks in the past year resulted in violations. Before that, the company's trucks were ticketed about 25 percent of the time, on average.

The truck involved in the highway collapse had not passed a single inspection since summer 2004 without at least one violation, according to the federal records.

Throughout that time, the company has maintained an overall ``satisfactory'' safety ranking from the patrol.

Even before the accident, the patrol had been scheduled to begin a biennial comprehensive review of the company. It is accelerating that review and will take action if officers find systemic safety problems, patrol Chief Steve Vaughn said.

``We can suspend their license or take many other steps,'' Vaughn said. ``Then again, if we find this is a string of bad luck, we may not.''

Sabek has not returned telephone messages left by The Associated Press since Sunday's explosion.

The 16 times the tanker was cited in the last 16 months appeared higher than normal, said Steve Keppler, director of policy and programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the nation's leading truck safety group.

But he cautioned that it is difficult to determine the seriousness of many of the violations without a thorough analysis.

Such citations are common in the trucking industry, he said. Law enforcement officers issue millions of tickets and order hundreds of thousands of trucks off roadways across the country each year for similar safety violations.

The four violations for carrying too much gasoline raise immediate questions, said John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers, an industry lobbying group. But four such citations probably are not enough to show a pattern of neglect, he said.

The truck had just left a refinery carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline when it crashed en route to a gas station, the Highway Patrol said.

Investigators have not assigned blame but have said skid marks suggest the driver was speeding before the rig overturned and burst into flames.

The heat melted the freeway connector overhead, a key link between San Francisco and its eastern suburbs. The state hopes to finish repair work by June 29, officials said Thursday.

The truck driver, James Mosqueda, remains hospitalized with second-degree burns.

Records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles obtained by The Associated Press show he had previously had his license revoked or suspended but do not give the reason. Mosqueda, 51, had a clean driving record in the 10 years before the crash. Court records show he also had a series of criminal convictions between 1981 and 1996.