in Houston, Texas
State OKed new inspection business for operators of station scrutinized after fatal crash
Tuesday, Apr 03, 2012, 01:58PM CST
By Steve Miller
bus wheel

It was a severe accident with severe consequences: 17 dead in a 2008 bus crash on a North Texas highway. The victims were members of a Vietnamese Catholic group from Houston headed to a church gathering in Missouri.

The bus was found to have passed an inspection performed by 5 Minute Inspections, a Houston operation run by two brothers, Alam and Cesar Hernandez. 5 Minute was shuttered after investigators found it was passing vehicles it didn’t even look at. Its lapsed registration shows Alam as the sole registrant in 2008.

An investigation by the Associated Press finds the Hernandez brothers up and at it again in the vehicle inspection business with the full approval of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Records show that the brothers now operate Fast Sticker and Lube in the Heights, which filed its papers with the state in April 2010.

While the inspection of commercial vehicles is a federal mandate, the oversight of those doing the inspections falls on the states. That’s a surefire brew for keeping people like the Hernandez brothers in business. 5 Minutes, in civil lawsuit responses, claimed that it was not responsible in the crash while plaintiffs claimed 5 Minutes passed a bus that had a retreaded tire, among other omissions.

The crash prompted a number of reports from the feds in 2009. Among them was this recommendation: “Require those states that allow private garages to conduct Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspections of commercial motor vehicles to have a quality assurance and oversight program that evaluates the effectiveness and thoroughness of those inspections.”

The crash also brought about a disagreement between the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board over just how much regulation the inspection business needs. The latter felt it was important, the former, not so much.

The NTSB filed a report that firmly blamed the Texas Department of Public Safety for an alleged failure to properly oversee inspection facilities.

The AP writes:

A DPS spokesman said the agency didn't find the issues raised by the NTSB or the trooper ''sufficient to justify action" against the station. However, further inquiries have led the department to seek Cesar Hernandez's suspension for bogus inspections of passenger vehicles, the spokesman said.

The brothers did not respond to the AP's request for comment.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of bus wheel by flickr user Sudhamshu, used via a Creative Commons license.

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