The company that owns the tractor trailer involved in Wednesday's fatal 35-vehicle crash on the Long Island Expressway has been cited for at least 23 unsafe driving violations in the past two years, federal safety records show.
Among the infractions cited were speeding, tailgating, failure to obey traffic-control laws and failure to use hazard flashers. Vehicles owned by the Vermont-based company, Jewell Transportation Inc., have also been involved in at least seven other accidents since January 2011, including a fatal crash in upstate New York on July 25, according to the records compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The company faced suspension at one point for two unpaid tickets, including one for an overweight vehicle, according to separate records compiled by the Department of Motor Vehicles in Vermont. The tickets were eventually paid and the company is currently in compliance, the records show.
According to the company's website, its fleet consists of more than 55 trucks and more than 100 trailers. Based on the grading system used by the DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which tracks trucking violations, Jewell performed worse in the "unsafe driving" category than 86.9 percent of comparable transportation companies since January 2011, the records show.
Data comparing the company's accident records to comparable transportation companies were not available, according to the records. Jewell, based in White River Junction, Vt., is a subcontractor for Looks Great Services of Huntington, which has a $20 million contract to clear trees, stumps and debris from Eisenhower Park in Nassau County, a county source said.
In Wednesday's crash on the eastbound LIE in Yaphank, a Jewell-owned tractor trailer loaded down with debris from superstorm Sandy ignited after crashing into several vehicles, sending thick, black smoke and a fireball skyward. Christa Zepf, 68, of Blue Point, was killed in the wreck. Another driver, Robert Murphy, 57, of Lloyd Harbor, was critically injured.
Suffolk police say the reason for Wednesday's pileup remains unclear, including whether lane restrictions or insufficient construction-zone warning signs played a role. No charges have been filed, but police have turned over the case to the district attorney's office for review, a police spokesman said.
Jewell and the driver of the tractor trailer, Raymond Simoneau, 42, of Vermont, have retained Manhattan law firm Wilson Elser to represent them, its lawyers said.
"My clients extend their deepest sympathies to Ms. Zepf's loved ones," said one of the attorneys, Stuart Miller. "Our thoughts and prayers are also with those who are injured. My clients are fully cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation of this accident."
Miller declined to comment on the company's safety record.
With Keith Herbert