- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The gasoline tanker that crashed and exploded this week, causing a San Francisco-area freeway ramp to collapse, was cited repeatedly for safety violations and was ordered off the road last year because of faulty brakes, federal records show.

The tanker’s owner or driver were cited 27 times since 2004 for violations ranging from its unsafe brakes and tires to carrying more gasoline than the truck was rated for, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The six-year-old tanker was incinerated in an explosion that collapsed an interstate connector to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The vehicle was owned by Sabek Transportation, a South San Francisco company that operates a fleet of eight trucks to ship gasoline between a refinery in Benicia and a string of gas stations in the Bay area.

The records obtained show that Sabek’s trucks have received at least 60 citations in the past three years during inspections by the California Highway Patrol. Throughout that time, the company has maintained an overall “satisfactory” safety ranking from the patrol.

In the case of the truck’s brakes, inspectors found that they pose an imminent threat to public safety, the records said. The truck was held at the inspection site until they could be repaired.

The 16 times that the tanker was cited in the past 16 months appeared higher than normal, said Steve Keppler, director of policy and programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a national truck safety group.

But he cautioned that it is difficult to determine the seriousness of many of the violations without a thorough analysis.

Such citations are common in the trucking industry, he said.

The four violations for carrying too much gasoline raise immediate questions, said John Conley, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers, an industry lobbying group. But four such citations probably are not enough to show a pattern of neglect, he said.

The truck had just left a refinery carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline when it crashed en route to a gas station, the highway patrol said.

Investigators have not assigned blame but have said skid marks suggest that the driver was speeding before the rig overturned and burst into flames.

Records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles obtained by the Associated Press show that driver James Mosqueda had previously had his license revoked or suspended, but do not give the reason why.

The heat melted the freeway connector overhead, a key link between San Francisco and its eastern suburbs. Repairs are expected to take months, a potential commuting headache for one of California’s most congested regions.

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