If anyone thinks the FMCSA is not serious about trucking and bus companies staying off the road after it has ordered them to shut down, due to safety concerns, you only need to look as far as what has happened to one operation and two individuals who have been indicted, following a deadly crash.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston says Angel De La Torre, and Carlos Ortuno, both of Houston, have been taken into federal custody on charges related to the crash of a passenger bus near Sherman on August 8, 2008.
The sealed indictment, returned May 30, was opened Wednesday as De La Torre made his initial appearance in federal court before a U.S. Magistrate. Ortuno was set for an appearance on Thursday.
De La Torre and his bus company, Angel Tours, have been charged with one count of conspiracy to make false statements, four counts of making false statements, and one count of operating a commercial motor vehicle after being placed out of service. Ortuno, an employee of Angel Tours, is charged with one count of conspiracy to make false statements and two counts of making false statements.
The indictment alleges that the defendants made false statements in an Application for Motor Carrier Authority, Form OP-1, and in an Application for U.S. DOT Number, Form MCS-150, filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. De La Torre and Angel Tours also allegedly operated a commercial motor vehicle after being placed out of service due to an unsatisfactory safety rating following a FMCSA inspection that allegedly uncovered numerous record keeping and safety violations.
De La Torre was the president and principal director of Angel Tours, according to the indictment. His duties allegedly included the overall operational and financial management of Angel Tours, including the direct supervision of its employees and independent contractors to ensure its commercial motor vehicle operations were in compliance with FMSCA’s rules and regulations. Additional duties allegedly included scheduling and dispatching the company’s bus drivers on trips and monitoring their locations as well as their fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle to be in compliance with FMSCA regulations.
According to the indictment, De La Torre had operated a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle business since 1994 until on or about August 8, 2008. On that date, the indictment alleges an Angel Tours bus carrying 55 passengers from Houston to Carthage, Missouri, crashed on U.S. Highway 75 near Sherman. Seventeen passengers died in the crash, and 38 passengers suffered serious to minor injuries.
In May 2008, an FMCSA inspection allegedly uncovered numerous violations. As a result of that inspection, the indictment alleges the FMSCA ordered Angel Tours to cease all interstate transportation on June 23, 2008, more than two weeks prior to the fatal crash.
Each conviction of conspiracy and/or making a false statement carries as possible punishment up to five years in federal prison and a possible fine of $250,000. If convicted of continuing to operate after and out of service order, De La Torre and Angell Tours further face a one-year term of imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.