Alabama Trucking Firm in Kentucky Fatal Crash Flunked Safety Rating

April 2, 2010

An Alabama trucking company involved in a crash that killed 11 people in Kentucky had a poor safety rating from federal regulators, repeatedly failing roadside inspections.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gave Hester Inc. a “deficient” rating of 88.4 in February based on inspections of the company’s 30 drivers during the past 30 months. The agency uses a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the worst score.

The driver of Hester tractor-trailer, 45-year-old Kennenth Laymon of Jasper, Ala., crossed the median of Interstate 65 in central Kentucky last Friday and slammed into a van, killing 10 people and himself, Kentucky State Police said. The others who died were Mennonites traveling to a wedding in Iowa. Two young children survived the crash.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said.

“We’ll be examining their record, their accident to incident history, their safety culture, training program and fatigue management,” Knudson said.

Rob Abbott, the vice president of safety policy for the 37,000-member American Trucking Association in Arlington, Va., said Hester shouldn’t have been operating based on its safety score. The ATA is a lobbying and advocacy group for the trucking industry, and Abbott declined to say if Hester is a member.

Scott Hester, the owner of the Fayette, Ala., trucking company, declined comment.

Hester hadn’t had a fatal accident since at least 2007, federal records showed. During that time, the company had three wrecks, just one involving injuries. The report does not include the names of drivers or their safety records.

The federal safety score was first reported by The Louisville Courier-Journal.

The records also showed Hester’s drivers were required to stop driving at nearly twice the average rate as companies nationally.

The Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “SafeStat” program rates the driver violations history of every trucking line. The agency’s Web site said the SafeStat scores are used to identify which drivers and trucks should be inspected, based on the safety history of the carrier.

The tractor-trailer Laymon was driving had been cited for problems with its lights, brakes and emergency equipment during six roadside inspections since 2008, according to the records. The truck had no citations in 2009 or 2010, including a clean roadside stop about a month before the fatal wreck, records show.

The Motor Carrier Safety Administration grants permits for trucking companies to haul across state lines. A spokeswoman for the agency could not immediately answer questions about the safety report or Hester’s compliance record.

Knudson said the NTSB’s on-scene investigation should be complete later this week. After that, investigators will await toxicology reports on Laymon. Investigators are still trying to determine if there is a vehicle recording device that would indicate whether the truck’s speed was a factor.

“In the southbound lane there were tire tracks departing the highway at a shallow angle onto the median. We did not document any skid marks on the highway,” Knudson said.

Associated Press writer Jeffrey McMurray in Lexington contributed to this report.

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