Truckers rarely get punished for this highway hazard

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by Jeremy Rogalski / I-Team

khou.com

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 11:20 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 1 at 11:46 AM

HOUSTON -- Ever get pelted by one of those annoying dump trucks spilling its load all over the place? The gravel or flying junk can crack a windshield, chip your car's paint job or even cause a wreck.

But an I-Team analysis of court records found very few truckers in Houston are getting punished.

It’s enough to tick off any driver, like George Chase.

"I see this truck driving and it's just spilling stuff out everywhere," said Chase, who was driving on Highway 59 downtown.

"It was just driving me nuts, so I started recording it," Chase said.

He pulled out his iPhone, and while dodging debris, shot video of boxes, paper and drywall dumping out on the road.

"And I thought this is just crazy, and I've seen this before but this was just over the top I thought," Chase said.

On Houston's highways, you'll find them daily: trucks with uncovered loads. And when you're in the wake of one of them, the result can be a headache and a pain in your wallet.

"The windshield on this car is about $1,200," said Brandon Deere, who was driving a near-new Mercedes Sedan when gravel from a loose load cracked his windshield.

Worse yet, it wasn't his first time.

"I'm tired of cracking my windshield, it's happened three times in a year,” Deere said.

This, despite a state law that truckers must securely cover their loads.

So the I-Team wanted to know, how often is that law enforced?

Consider the Houston Police Department. It has three dozen truck enforcement officers, who do roughly a thousand inspections a month and write around a thousand citations a month.

But how many of those are for allowing a top load to spill over? Less than a dozen, according to an I-Team analysis of municipal court records over the past two years.

Yet despite those low numbers, HPD Truck Enforcement Unit Lt. Anthony  Kivela still called the issue “a priority and concern to our police officers.”

So we had to ask:

I-Team: "If this is a concern, why not write more tickets?”

Lt. Kivela: “Well I'm not minimalizing the importance of material that's coming out of trucks … we wish we could be everywhere and see every case where loads are spilling out, but the bottom line is, we just can't.”

But the I-Team didn't have to look far to find what HPD's been missing -- trucks with tarps flapping in the breeze, to trucks with no tarps at all, to one that loaded up with dirt, then drove 15 miles on the interstate with its tarp tucked away.

The driver identified himself as Carlos Garcia.

I-Team: “You're putting other people at risk, stuff is falling out of your truck on the freeway, that's a danger.”

Garcia: “Yeah, now I know.”

I-Team: “What do you mean, you didn't know that before? c'mon.”

Garcia:  “But it's dirt."

Garcia claimed since it was "just dirt,” it was okay. But in that dirt, we found chunks of rock and concrete.

An officer manager for the company who owns the truck, Dennis T. Williams, Inc., told the I-Team it reprimanded Garcia. It also said it regularly instructs all of its drivers to cover their loads.

Back on the road, the I-Team followed trucks with gravel precariously rolling, then bouncing, then bombarding our news van. And we were surprised to see a truck with a load of tree waste unsecure, given that it belongs to the City of Pasadena.

I-Team: "All the branches and stuff were flying all over the place.”

Driver: “Like I say, I don't know.”

I-Team: “What do you mean you don't know, you're the one who put it in the truck.”

Driver: “Yeah, well, you need to talk to my boss.”

We did, and turns out, the City of Pasadena did not have any tarps at all to cover those trucks.

But a city spokesperson said they're buying some now.

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