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Cops: 3 tankers out of service, 40 summonses at checkpoint

Law enforcement personnel operate at a multiagency gasoline

Law enforcement personnel operate at a multiagency gasoline tanker truck safety checkpoint in Brentwood on the evening of March 27, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Geared up for six hours in the cold, officers from state and county agencies began pulling commercial fuel tankers off the Long Island Expressway after 9 p.m. Thursday.

By 3 a.m. Friday, authorities had issued 40 summonses, cited seven trucks for tax violations and taken three tankers out of service, having inspected a total of 15 trucks at the checkpoint, Suffolk County police said.

Led by the Suffolk police department's Motor Carrier Safety Section, officers representing the State Police, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Suffolk County district attorney's office and the state Department of Taxation and Finance ran the tankers through a gauntlet of inspections at a Park and Ride off Exit 53 of the LIE.

"We're making sure they're operating mechanically safe," said Sgt. Michael Mallin, commanding officer of the Motor Carrier Safety Section. "The officers will go around the truck checking lights, go underneath the truck checking brakes, tires, suspension system . . . pretty much from front to rear, we're looking for anything that's not safe or not working properly on the truck."

After being flagged by police near Exit 53, the fuel trucks followed a patrol car to the Park and Ride, where the tankers lined up for inspection. While Suffolk officers and state troopers checked the mechanics of the trucks, as well as their registration and paperwork, investigators from the Taxation and Finance Department checked loading tickets to ensure proper taxes were paid on the fuel. Then, the DEC performed air quality tests.

In all, Suffolk police said in a Friday morning news release: the motor-carrier unit and State Police issued 25 summonses for equipment violations and placed three cargo tankers out of service for safety hazards; the Taxation and Finance Department cited seven trucks for violations of the New York State tax laws; and DEC police issued eight summonses for violations of the state Environmental Conservation Law.

The last time Suffolk police did a major fuel tanker checkpoint was two years ago, when seven of the 19 trucks inspected were found to have some issue with tax noncompliance, said Mallin, of the motor-carrier safety unit. That night, six of the 19 trucks were placed out of service for mechanical issues.

Overall across the unit, Mallin said, "Fifty percent of the trucks that my guys stop have to be placed out of service."

The late-night checkpoint stings are expensive for the department, said Lt. David Geer of the Highway Patrol, partly because some officers are paid overtime. But they're worth it -- Suffolk County has the most registered commercial vehicles of any county in the state, Mallin said, and the late-night inspections help officers nab drivers who travel the LIE late at night hoping to skirt law enforcement.

As officers loaded into patrol cars and headed to the LIE on Thursday night, with one police SUV blaring Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries," Mallin said the bottom line is to get dangerous trucks off the road.

And later, they did: The third truck that came through checkpoint was placed out of service -- its right rear brake was almost out, a taillight was dangling, fluid was leaking from the hood to the pavement, and it was puffing dark smoke.

With Rosemary Olander

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