Upton Sinclair is eye-rolling over in his grave today. The man who toiled for almost 2 months in a meatpacking plant to uncover the horrific working conditions of American laborers, can only watch from beyond the grave as his journalistic descendants, who, to a person, hold him up as an ideal, can't even be bothered to uncover the most basic details of the trucking company involved in yesterday's fatal Thoreau, New Mexico 18-wheeler/bus collision.
For those who missed the story, which every outlet from CNN to CBS to NBC, pretty much everyone with a press credential and a per diem, has covered for the last day, here's what happened. A JAG Transportation truck was traveling east-bound on I-40 near Thoreau, New Mexico when the truck suffered a tire blowout, crossed the median, and slammed into westbound Greyhound bus. As a result 7 people lost their lives.
By all accounts, the Greyhound bus driver was doing nothing more than traveling in the opposite direction of an out of control 18-wheeler at the time of the crash, so I don't think I'm alone in my desire to want to know more about the trucking company that appears to be the most likely cause of this crash.
Yet, nowhere in any news report will you even find JAG Transportation named, let alone investigated. As a result, most news outlets are missing a huge part of this story, the part that would have spurred Upton Sinclair to get his commercial drivers license, or at the very least do a basic internet search. Here's what I found.
Who Is JAG Transportation?
JAG Transportation is a small trucking company based in Fresno, California. According to government records, JAG Transportation consists of 17 trucks and 10 drivers. Last year, those vehicles covered 2,111,652 miles.
The thing about the company that ought to be of some interest to an intrepid reporter is that over the past 2 years, government reports indicate that JAG Transportation has been involved in 3 injury crashes with other vehicles.
That may not sound like much, but on average, a large truck is involved in an injury crash every 2.6 million miles. JAG Transportation drivers managed to be involved in 3 injury wrecks in the time it takes most truck operators to be involved in 1, and did so with half a million miles to spare.
It could certainly be bad luck or statistical noise, but when a trucking company has accidents at more than 3 times the rate of the typical truck operator, doesn't that sound some alarm bells? For a bit of perspective, one larger trucking company annually recognizes drivers who drive for more than 3 million miles without a crash. How many people reach that milestone in a given year? On average 8.
If we loosen the criteria a bit to drivers who drove more than 2 million miles (about what JAG Transportation's fleet does in a year), then list expands to 30 drivers. The point is that it's possible to drive tractor trailers for millions of miles without hurting people, unless you're JAG Transportation, then hundreds of thousands of miles is an achievement.
Again, to be fair, JAG Transportation's curious crash history could be the result of the world's worst luck, or there might be something more to the story. If only there was a profession of people whose mission it was to dig into these matters and get to the truth.
If that were the only information I found doing a modest amount of research it would be one thing, but something else jumped out at me while looking into JAG Transportation.
Was JAG Transportation's Tire Blowout Preventable?
Preliminary reports indicate that the likely cause of the Thoreau, NM crash was a tire blowout. There are three common causes of tire blowouts. First, there may have been debris on the roadway that cut the tire and started the chain of events. It's also possible that the tires suffered from a manufacturing defect. Lastly, the most common reason that tires blow out is due to poor maintenance and operating tires well past when it is safe to do so.
Earlier I mentioned that according to the federal government, JAG Transportation operates 17 trucks, but only employs 10 drivers. This is a red flag, because in most trucking companies the number of drivers closely matches the number of trucks. After all, the owner doesn't make any money when a truck isn't hauling a load; it actually costs them money in taxes, license fees, and maintenance to have trucks without drivers.
One sensible reason to have spare trucks sitting around is so that drivers still have something to move loads with while their normal truck is in the shop. If JAG Transportation only had 1 or 2 spare trucks, the extra trucks might make sense, but when they have nearly a back-up truck for every driver, it suggests that their trucks might spend a lot of time in shop. Admittedly, this is a bit of speculation on my part, but if someone has a better explanation, I'd certainly like to hear it.
Working at a truck accident injury law firm, experience tells me that in the vast majority of tractor trailer blowouts, a company on tight margins tried to squeeze some extra miles out of aging tires, because the cost of replacing 18-wheeler tires is so prohibitive. In effect, trucking companies are betting a few thousand dollars that aging tires will hold up for a bit longer. For motorists like us who share the roads with these trucks, we don't bet money, but our lives that the tires won't catastrophically fail and kill us. And we don't get a say abut whether or not we want to be a part of such a ludicrous bet.
To be clear, I don't have any inside information about what happened here. My point is that if there were this many red flags, a journalist like Upton Sinclair would certainly be out there investigating, to make sure that a trucking company didn't just kill 7 people because they were trying to save a couple bucks by putting off vital maintenance.
Thoreau, NM Bus/18-Wheeler Crash Reporters, I'm Here for You
I may seem a bit hot under the collar about this crash and the reporting (or lack thereof) surrounding it. It's no excuse, but I do work at a truck accident injury law firm; the devastating consequences of negligent trucking companies come across my desk on a daily basis. Further, every crash our firm works was almost always preventable. Add in the reluctance of the media to name trucking companies involved in fatal crashes and--well, I'm only human.
When I see reporters flying to a scene, taking pictures of the wreckage, but not doing any work to understand what happened or why, it bugs the hell out of me. When "my betters," who constantly repeat through print, screens, and on the internet that their job is to get to truth, instead trade in disaster porn, I don't think it's just me who ends up frustrated, but every member of the public who isn't looking for spectacle, but accountability.
To illustrate just how little reporting occurred, I tracked down, identified, and pulled the trucking company records from the DoT number on the side of the truck that's pictured in the photos that every press outlet featured in their stories. In short, they had access to the very same information I used and did absolutely nothing with it.
Why can the same reporters who love a good perp walk not even identify the trucking company involved in this crash when they have a one day head start on some guy on a law blog? Is it not an important part of the story, or is the mangled wreckage as far as their interest extends? Don't we owe it to the 7 people who lost their lives to discover what happened in this crash? Isn't JAG Transportation a crucial part of that story?
I have a deal for any reporter. If it's too much work to do more than film a scene of carnage or if you're a national journalist, but lack the basic ability to look up trucking company information in federal databases that anyone can access, free to call me at (855) 326-0000 (toll free). I'll do your job for you.