The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has declared Tennessee-licensed truck driver Earnest Paul Biddwell to be an imminent hazard to public safety and has ordered him not to operate any commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. Biddwell was served the federal order on October 30, 2017.
On August 3, 2017, Biddwell, a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder, was operating a large commercial truck along Tennessee State Route 305 in McMinn County, Tennessee, when the gooseneck trailer separated from the vehicle, traveled across the center line striking a truck-trailer in the opposing lane and causing it to veer off the roadway into the ditch and up an embankment before it overturned. The driver the overturned vehicle died at the scene.
Although the gooseneck trailer had separated from his truck, Biddwell continued to drive until he was stopped by police officers. Biddwell subsequently tested positive for controlled substances. Controlled substances were also found in the truck cab.
At the time of the crash, Biddwell was operating with a revoked CDL and without possessing a valid medical certificate. In the preceding two years, Biddwell had been cited four times for violations of records-of-duty status (RODS) and three times for operating a commercial vehicle equipped with a radar detector.
The RODS produced by Biddwell for the months of June and July 2017, which showed him operating in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri, falsely named two motor carriers for whom he was driving. In fact, Biddwell was not employed or operating on behalf of either motor carrier.
A post-crash inspection of Biddwell’s truck and gooseneck trailer by the Tennessee Department of Safety revealed six out-of-service violations, including serious safety deficiencies covering braking components, improper breakaway or emergency braking equipment, fuel tank construction and lighting devices and refective components.
FMCSA’s imminent hazard out-of-service order states that Biddwell’s continued operation of a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce “… substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death to you and the motoring public if not discontinued immediately.”
Failure to comply with the provisions of a federal imminent hazard out-of-service order may result in action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for equitable relief and punitive damages. Civil penalties of up to $1,811 may be assessed for each violation of operating a commercial motor vehicle in violation of the order. Knowing and/or willful violation of the order may also result in criminal penalties.
Biddwell also may be subject to a civil penalty enforcement proceeding brought by FMCSA for his violation of the agency’s safety regulations.