New safety programs target risky truck drivers


More than a hundred Hoosiers were killed in 2011 in accidents involving big trucks.

New federal and state programs have now been launched to help keep you safe on the road by tracking risky drivers and companies failing to follow the rules.

But 13 Investigates has found some slipping by, and tracks down those behind the dangerous crashes and their companies' safety grades. 

Good Samaritan Killed on I-465

"I need all units to start that way. That crash it's going to be on the southwest side," alerted an Indianapolis dispatcher moments after a Good Samaritan was run over on the side of the road by a semi in September 2011.

"I had just turned the corner when the semi hit the truck and then him," said Kym Cobel, a lucky witness who lived to tell about a dangerous encounter with a big rig on an Indiana highway.

"I looked up saw a man, the man in the semi and then he ran the Good Samaritan over," she told 13 Investigates.

Kym and a friend had pulled over to fix a flat tire on I-465.

David Hambrick and Greg Lacy pulled in behind Kym's flashing lights to help, when a semi veered out of the lane behind them.

"I didn't just see it, I felt it. It knocked me over. The wind was so strong, I fell straight to the ground," said Cobel recalling the deadly accident.

"I saw the man, the Good Samaritan in a pile, I don't know if there wasn't a broken bone in his body," she concluded.

Investigators determined the semi driver, 59-year old Paul Morris, was not paying attention and possibly fatigued. His log book did not reflect accurate hours on the road.

An Overturned Semi at the North Split

"I didn't want to see somebody die that night," said Heath Hunter, who was near the I-65/I-70 north split in November 2011, when a semi abruptly flipped over in front of him, dumping watermelons across the road.

"I seen the person in the cab trying to beat on the glass. She wanted out," said Hunter, talking about 48-year-old Sonja Hubbard, the driver.

Hunter can't forget her eyes. A mix of fear and later, he learned intoxication.

According to State Police, Hubbard was three times the legal limit drunk. Her blood alcohol registered .247%.

"That's nuts. That's crazy," said Hunter.

State Police say tired and impaired truckers trigger accidents, but troopers don't know if they are unless they can legally stop them to check.

That's prompted a new mission for Indiana State Police. Troopers are enforcing more traffic violations like speeding and illegal lane use to see if the person behind the wheel is fit for the road.

"We believe crashes can be reduced most effectively by hitting the driver, as far as any violations," said Captain Wayne Andrews, who oversees the Indiana Motor Carrier Enforcement section, the unit assigned to police big trucks.

In 2011, (the most current figures available) ISP inspected 113,000 trucks. That's still a small number compared to the thousands of truckers driving with troubling violations. The reality is some don't get caught until there's a crash.

"We can only do a select number," Andrews explained.

ISP had not come across Paul Morris until the night of his accident.

"He looked down on my buddy laying there dead. All he could say was you shouldn't have been on the side of the road and turned around and walked off," said Greg Lacy, who spoke to Morris right after the crash.

Morris, a driver for Time Dispatch Services, out of Utah and Florida, was not charged or ticketed.

13 Investigates has learned he walked away from another accident seven months earlier in Ohio, where he slammed into the back of a stopped semi.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration keeps track of trucking accidents through its Safety Measurement System.

Time Dispatch Services gets a passing 22 percent when it comes to unsafe driving. But driver fitness is another story with a 92 percent failing rate. It also fails when it comes to accurately logging hours of service, with a 98-percent non-compliance grade.

The new program and grading system helps the government target high risk drivers and their companies.

"I would say that anything that is that high, it pops up as a red flag when we run the DOT number," said Captain Andrews.

But the red flags don't automatically take drivers off the road or shut down companies.

The agency issues warning letters and fine and gives time for improvement. The worst companies are put out of service after months or even years of repeat violations.

We tracked Morris to this fenced in maintenance yard under the railroad tracks in Cincinnati, where he now works. He wouldn't talk on camera, but said behind closed doors, by phone, he's reeling from the deadly crash.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody. I haven't been driving since, and it's not because I have been forbidden to drive. It's just that I can't get into a truck right now," Morris told 13 Investigates when we first contacted him.

What about the company that hired Sonja Hubbard?

We found her Indiana connection down a dark hallway on the west side at a local trucking company the federal government also rates as failing in at least one safety measurement.

Avtar Singh Bassi of Bassi Transport was Hubbard's boss until he fired her.

"She was drunk. She was too fast taking the ramp," he explained.

"Did you know that she was driving under the influence?" questioned 13 Investigates.

"How the hell I know? She picked up the load. She was supposed to go to Pennsylvania. In the middle of the night I don't know what she was doing," Bassi responded, adding that his company does mandatory drug testing before hiring drivers.

Federal records show Bassi Transport has a 68-percent unsafe driving rate. The company had nothing measurable this year for driver fitness but records show an 89-percent failure rate when it comes to logging hours of service.

The Feds say they will take action when warranted.

Indiana drivers are warned to stay alert and report unsafe drivers, to help ISP catch them before they crash. State Police say try to put distance between your vehicle and truck drivers on the road, and if you see something alarming find a safe place off the highway or road and call it in.

"There's no way to describe it. It's scary, very scary," said Kym Cobel who lived to warn others.

Within the first year of this new program, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shut down 26 bus companies for violations but no trucking companies.

There are now arrest warrants out for Sonja Hubbard. She failed to show up for a guilty plea hearing for drunk driving.