Indiana food transport company shut down by state police & feds
Early Tuesday morning, truck after truck pulled out of the U&D Service warehouse on the east side of Indianapolis. The trucks were all loaded with food headed to Chinese restaurants across the state.
They were the last trucks to get out before state and federal investigators moved in, bringing bad news for the embattled food distribution company.
"As of 10:37 this morning, they have been shut down," announced Indiana State Police motor carrier inspector Damon Martin.
Eyewitness News cameras rolled as inspectors from ISP and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration served a federal out-of-service order that means big trouble for any trucking company. The order says U&D Service poses an "imminent hazard to public safety" because of its many repeated safety violations.
ISP says it has cited the company for 134 safety violations in the past four months, including 28 citations for driving overweight trucks, 25 violations for hiring drivers who cannot speak English, 19 citations for exceeding tire load limits on food delivery vehicles, and another 16 violations issued to drivers who were operating trucks without a commercial driver's license. All are serious violations of federal law.
"Those violations were so severe, that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stepped in and deemed this carrier an imminent hazard," explained Martin. "The carrier's roadside performance over the past several months proved a risk to public safety."
Wayne Andrews, who oversees ISP's motor carrier inspection program, says U&D Service was repeatedly warned to fix its safety problems – long before regulators shut it down.
"I don't know why they continue to repeat the same violations because they're telling us they have corrected these issues, but we're finding that they're not," he said.
This isn't the first time 13 Investigates has exposed serious safety problems involving U&D Service.
Last summer, Eyewitness News found the company (then known as HK Trucking) was transporting dangerous truckloads of food to restaurants across Indiana and other states in the Midwest. ISP and local health inspectors determined much of the food was contaminated and transported at unsafe temperatures.
The owner of U&D Service was later found in contempt of Marion County Environmental Court for failing to fix numerous food safety problems that, according to the Indiana State Department of Health, pose a serious risk of food poisoning for thousands of Hoosiers. U&D Service has since spent more than $15,000 on court-ordered fines and safety improvements to remain in business and to appease state health investigators.
The latest problems involve federal rule violations and have nothing to do with food safety. Inspectors are now worried about the improper training of U&D Service's drivers and safety issues involving its trucks – trucks the company is no longer permitted to use.
Tuesday morning, U&D Service surrendered license plates and registrations for all eight vehicles on its east-side lot. Within the next 24 hours, the company must give up plates and registrations for its remaining 33 vehicles that were off-site delivering food when regulators served the shut-down notice Tuesday morning. Those 33 trucks were ordered out-of-service by FMCSA investigators and were mandated to stop at their next scheduled delivery site.
The company cannot use any of the trucks again unless it files a detailed corrective action plan. In order to resume operations, U&D Service must agree to:
- hire drivers with valid commercial driver's licenses,
- not dispatch vehicles that lack a properly-licensed driver,
- not dispatch overweight trucks, and
- train drivers in the English language so they can answer basic questions and complete federally-required paperwork.
Fulfilling all of those requirements could take a long time, according to state inspectors.
"It could take several weeks. It could take months. It may never happen again. They may not go back in service," Martin said.
Eyewitness News asked U&D Service to comment on the out-of-service order, what it will mean for the company and its employees, and what steps it will take next.
So far, the company's owners have not agreed to an interview, and they have not provided WTHR with a statement.
"At this point, it's not a good time," said the company's fleet manager.