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Bus Company Responsible For Fatal Phoenix Interstate Crash Was Operating Illegally; FMCSA Granted Emergency Action To Shut Down Carrier

The company involved in the fatal, March 5 bus crash outside of Phoenix, Arizona had been denied passenger carrier operating authority in April, 2009, but continued to operate anyways, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Pursuant to an emergency request by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Tierra Santa, Inc., was ordered on March 6  by the United States District Court for the Central District of California to cease all passenger carrier services-even though the company’s application to conduct such services had been officially denied by the USDOT on December 14, 2009. According to the FMCSA complaint, Tierra Santa’s owner, Cayetano Martinez, operated other entities that had previously been shut down, yet attempted to “reincarnate himself as a new carrier” only to be denied authorization once more in December, 2009. The complaint further states that “Martinez has shown a persistency and determination to continue operating under new entities and businesses,” a pattern that is “without authority and without regard for the safety of its passengers” according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The crash took place 25 miles outside of Phoenix on Interstate 10. The bus was traveling from Mexico to Los Angeles early Friday morning when it struck a pickup truck, veered off of the highway and rolled several times, crushing the bus’s roof and shattering all of the windows. Six passengers were ejected from the bus and killed. The 16 remaining passengers were seriously injured, some critically.

In a press release detailing the shut down of Tierra Santa, Inc., Secretary LaHood stated “[i]t is absolutely essential that unsafe carriers like this one be taken off of the road. . .[s]afety is our number one priority at the Department of Transportation and we will not rest until this accident has been fully investigated.”

What remains in the wake of this tragedy and the FMCSA/USDOT revelations about Tierra Santa, Inc., is an important and unsettling question: if Martinez’ unsafe and unauthorized passenger carrier operations went undetected for this long, how many other similar entities are out on our roads, getting away with the exact same thing?

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