LOS ANGELES — A federal judge has ordered a bus company involved in an Arizona crash that killed six people and injured more than a dozen others to cease interstate operations.
U.S. District Judge George King of the Central District of California in Los Angeles issued the order Saturday against Tierra Santa Inc. and its owner, Cayetano Martinez.
Martinez earlier signed a consent decree prohibiting him or any affiliated company from hauling passengers without U.S. Department of Transportation authority, which is required to take passengers from one state to another.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration demanded Van Nuys, Calif.-based Tierra Santa stop operating Friday, the day of the crash south of Phoenix. The judge's order makes the shutdown enforceable by the court.
"They knew they were running illegally," Duane DeBruyne, a Department of Transportation spokesman in Washington, D.C., said Sunday.
A federal complaint filed against the company Monday says the motor carrier administration previously shut down Martinez, who then attempted "to reincarnate himself as a new carrier" that unsuccessfully sought Department of Transportation operating authority, the department said in a news release Sunday.
"Martinez has shown a persistency and determination to continue operating under new entities and businesses," the release quotes the complaint as saying.
DeBruyne said further information from the complaint was not available because it had not been filed in court.
Thom Mrocek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, said the complaint was to have been filed Monday, but that the consent decree Martinez signed late Friday already settled it.
The lawsuit process allows the court to have jurisdiction, and "if there's a violation, you could be brought into court," Mrocek said Sunday.
Messages left by The Associated Press on Saturday and Sunday seeking comment from Tierra Santa were not returned.
The bus that crashed early Friday entered the United States from Mexico at El Paso, Texas.
It was headed to Phoenix to change drivers when it hit a pickup truck, veered onto the left shoulder of the road and rolled on Interstate 10 on the Gila River Indian Reservation. The impact crushed the roof and knocked out the windows.
More than a dozen passengers remained hospitalized over the weekend.
Tierra Santa applied last April for operating authority to haul passengers across state lines. The Department of Transportation notified the company by registered mail that it could not conduct interstate transportation during the review, DeBruyne said.
The agency sought more information for the application but the company never responded. In December, the department sent another certified letter telling the company it had run out of time and was not authorized to take passengers across state lines, DeBruyne said.
The consent decree does not prevent civil penalties against Martinez for possible violations of motor carrier safety regulations, transportation officials said.
Last summer, a study by the Government Accountability Office found that at least 20 of the roughly 220 commercial bus companies that had been fined and ordered out of service in 2007 and 2008 by federal regulators evaded compliance by setting up shop under a new name.
The investigation found offenders in at least nine states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, New York and Washington. The violators owed tens of thousands of dollars in delinquent fines and had scores of violations, from operating without the proper license to failing to test drivers for illegal drugs and alcohol.
Another 1,073 commercial trucking firms are also believed to be possible "reincarnations" after incurring fines and violations, often using the same address, owner name, employees and contact numbers.
Responding in the report, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it had put in place new oversight measures after last August's crash, including a computer matching process to compare new applicants to poor-performing motor carriers dating back to 2003. Newly licensed carriers also must undergo a safety audit within 18 months of approval, a step that helped the agency identify several of the rogue companies cited by the GAO.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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