Driving time hours regs suspended in Texas | Driver in human smuggling case indicted

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Trucking news and briefs for Tuesday, July 26, 2022:

Maximum driving HOS suspended for certain Texas haulers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Western Service Center has extended a suspension of the maximum driving time hours of service regulations for truck drivers providing direct assistance to an ongoing wildfire emergency.

As a result of widespread wildfires posing an imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life or property in multiple Texas counties, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott originally issued a disaster declaration on March 18.

On July 21, the state of Texas requested FMCSA issue an extension of the state emergency declaration and grant emergency regulatory relief from 49 CFR § 395.3.

The waiver only applies to carriers providing “direct assistance” to wildfire relief, which FMCSA says does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration. Specific commodities covered by the waiver are not mentioned in the declaration.

Because emergency conditions have not abated, FMCSA said it is extending the declaration until the end of the emergency, or through Aug. 22, whichever is earlier. If the emergency continues, FMCSA may extend the declaration again.

Two indicted in deadly human smuggling attempt

A federal grand jury in San Antonio returned an indictment last week against two men charged in the fatal human smuggling operation involving a tractor-trailer incident that occurred on June 27, resulting in the death of 50 adults and three minor children and injuring 10 adults and one minor child.

Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, of Pasadena, Texas, and Christian Martinez, 28, of Palestine, Texas, are charged in a federal indictment with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy; and one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.

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Upon conviction, the charges for conspiracy to transport and transport resulting in death carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty. The Attorney General will decide whether to seek the death penalty at a later time. Should the Attorney General determine that the circumstances of the offense warrant that a sentence of death is justified, the law requires that notice be filed with the court at a reasonable time before trial. 

The defendants face up to 20 years in prison for the transporting resulting in serious bodily injury charges. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

On June 27, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents responded to the scene of a human smuggling event involving a tractor-trailer and 64 individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally. San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officers advised HSI agents that they arrived at the location of the tractor-trailer in southwest San Antonio after receiving 911 calls from concerned citizens. 

At the scene, SAPD officers discovered multiple individuals -- some still inside the tractor trailer, some on the ground and in nearby brush, many of them deceased and some of them incapacitated. SAPD officers were led to the location of an individual, later identified as Zamorano, who was observed hiding in the brush after attempting to flee. Zamorano, who was the driver of the truck, was detained by SAPD officers.

A search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano. Through investigation, it was discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event. 

ATRI wants to hear from truckers on driver-facing cameras

The American Transportation Research Institute has launched a short survey to better understand truck driver perspectives and issues with driver-facing cameras. 

ATRI’s driver-facing camera research was a top research priority of its Research Advisory Committee in 2021. Previous Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration-sponsored research conducted by ATRI documented that truck drivers have very positive opinions about road-facing cameras, but numerous driver concerns were raised about driver-facing cameras. 

ATRI’s driver-facing camera survey is designed to better understand the specific issues and concerns truck drivers have, and to determine what, if any, strategies might address those concerns. 

The OOIDA Foundation participated in both the prioritization of the research, as well as in the survey design. 

The second component of ATRI’s research will focus on how driver-facing camera video feeds could be used by defense attorneys to reduce unfavorable litigation outcomes against truck drivers and motor carriers. 

The survey is available online here.

Penske opens new facility in Ohio

Penske Truck Leasing recently opened a new, state-of-the-art facility in Monroe, Ohio.

Located at 100 Clark Boulevard, the new facility expands Penske’s capability to support the market and allows increased aid to the large territory between its Sharonville and Dayton sites in the same state.

At this location, Penske offers consumer and commercial truck rental, full-service truck leasing and contract truck fleet maintenance. It is also outfitted with the company's proprietary fully digital and voice-directed preventive maintenance process and Penske digital experience solutions, which help customers leverage Penske technology as well as options related to onboard technology systems (ELDs, telematics, onboard cameras, etc.).

The location's 14,520 square feet sit on 5.96 acres. It features three service bays plus an automatic truck wash bay, a two-lane fuel island and in-floor heating.