Amazon.com has rapidly built a sprawling network to move merchandise around the nation's highways. However, many of the trucking companies it has hired for this purpose are more dangerous than their peers, sometimes with fatal results.
One company whose driver was found with a crack pipe after running an Amazon trailer into a Minnesota ditch was convicted of driving while high. Another driver hauling Amazon freight was involved in a fatal accident in Kansas after losing control while braking—two months after his employer ignored a police order to fix the truck’s brakes, police reports show.
A third driver at another company had two crashes during a single trip between Amazon warehouses. The driver ultimately careened across a Wyoming highway into an oncoming truck, killing its driver.
According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of government data, all three companies received unsafe driving scores that raised red flags at the U.S. Transportation Department. Between February 2020 and early August 2022, more than 1,300 Amazon trucking contractors received scores worse than the level at which DOT officials typically take action. DOT scores are a widely used industry standard for assessing trucker safety.
Trucking contractors that worked frequently for Amazon were more than twice as likely as all other similar companies to receive bad unsafe driving scores, according to a Journal analysis. About 39% of the frequent Amazon contractors in the Journal’s analysis received scores at that level.
Since 2015, more than 75 people have been killed in crashes involving trucking companies hauling freight for Amazon, according to a review by the Journal.
Amazon has announced that its contractors had a fatality rate of 7% lower than the industry average in 2020. The company has expressed its condolences to the families of those killed in crashes involving its contractors.
The safety director of Amazon's freight unit, Steve DasGupta, has said that the company's goal is to have zero accidents and zero fatalities. He added that Amazon runs a very safe network of tens of thousands of carriers.
Amazon has announced that it has suspended all of the contractors involved in recent crashes in Minnesota, Kansas and Wyoming. The company says that it would have cut ties sooner with the company whose driver was caught with a crack pipe, had it known about the incident. This information was learned by the Journal from a public record.
Mr. DasGupta also said that Amazon had recently made changes to its screening process for contractors, and that as of July, 96.5% of contractors met Amazon's internal threshold for safety scores, which is more stringent than DOT's. Amazon said that just 1% of its network fell short of its standards in September.
E-commerce has seen a huge surge in growth in recent years, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. This has prompted Amazon to expand its logistics arm, buying or leasing 63,000 trailers and hundreds of trucks since 2015.
Amazon hires outside companies to drive its loads, which totaled more than 1.5 million in August. The market for long-haul truckers is highly fragmented, and safety standards vary by company.
One trucking company that worked exclusively for Amazon, the now-defunct Condor Riders Corp., had an unsafe driving score that placed it among the most dangerous trucking companies in the nation in March and April 2020, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The government scores are based on speeding tickets and other infractions.
On June 26, 2020, Kazara Leacock was heading south on the New Jersey Turnpike when a Condor truck pulling an Amazon Prime trailer smashed into the back of her Toyota Camry. Leacock was on her way to attend a birthday party in Maryland at the time of the accident.
According to police and autopsy reports, the impact of the crash killed her 1-year-old son, Messiah, and severely injured his 3-year-old brother, Hilkiah.
A motorist who stopped to help said that they couldn't tell if the car involved was a four-door or two-door. Ms. Leacock, a 26-year-old security guard from Brooklyn, said that Amazon and its contractors were evading responsibility. She said that people are getting hurt and injured, and that the company is not taking accountability.
Police ticketed the driver of the Amazon delivery van for following too closely and careless driving, and eventually his license was suspended. Amazon suspended the driver about two months after the crash. He said that even though Amazon is "not exempt from bad actors," the Journal's data analysis does not reflect the safety performance of the majority of the approximately 50,000 trucking firms that rotate through its network.
Mr. DasGupta also disagreed with the Journal's approach of looking at contractors' scores over a period of more than two years. He argued that a company's current monthly score is the best way to measure its safety performance over time.
The Journal's analysis focused on 3,512 trucking companies that were inspected by authorities three or more times while hauling trailers for Amazon since February 2020. That group carried 75% of Amazon tractor-trailer shipments documented in records of government inspections, which include routine compliance checks, such as at weigh stations, and traffic stops.The analysis found that these companies were cited for more than 1,400 violations, including problems with brakes, lights and other safety equipment. In addition, nearly one-third of the companies had drivers who had been cited for serious violations, such as speeding, in the past two years.Amazon said it has "high standards" for the companies it works with and that it takes action when problems are found.
According to the data, companies that frequently haul Amazon's freight are more likely to have poor driving safety scores. This puts American motorists at greater risk, said Jason Miller, a Michigan State University professor who studies transportation safety.
MJS Enterprises Inc., a trucking company based in West Chicago, Illinois, scored worse than the level DOT officials consider problematic in all 30 months included in the Journal’s analysis. This means that the company had a higher number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities than what is considered acceptable by the DOT.
In October 2020, MJS driver Dilshod Abdurasulov crashed into a line of cars as they slowed for congestion along Interstate 20 in northeastern Louisiana. Two other drivers, Edmund Miller Jr., 70, and José Luis Venegas Nuño, 36, died in the crash, police records show.
The Venegas's 13-month-old son was in the car with his wife, Edith Reynoso Gonzalez, at the time of the crash. According to Ms. Reynoso, the baby began crying shortly before the accident. She took him out of his car seat and held him in her arms. This decision may have saved his life, as the back of the vehicle was nearly destroyed.
Ms. Reynoso said that the contents of the trucks are not worth someone's life. She noted that the drivers are often in a rush to deliver the items, which can lead to accidents.
Mr. Abdurasulov has been cited for careless driving, according to a police report. This is his fourth citation in two years. His previous citations have included driving an unregistered vehicle and speeding. He was also ticketed for a crash in which he flipped his tractor-trailer off a highway ramp in Ohio, court and police records show.
In an August interview, Mr. Abdurasulov said that he still worked for MJS. He referred questions to a lawyer representing the company, who declined to comment. MJS officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
MJS drivers have been involved in several crashes, including one in Louisiana, according to data from the DOT. In March 2021, officials conducted an investigation of MJS and downgraded the company's overall rating to "conditional." This effectively put its trucking authorization on probation. In August, MJS settled DOT allegations that it had failed to meet requirements for testing drivers for drugs and alcohol after a collision. The company's conditional rating remains in effect.
According to industry officials, many companies will not hire trucking firms with a "conditional" rating or lower. MJS continued to pull Amazon trailers at least until September 2021, inspection records show. At the time, Amazon required trucking contractors to have safety ratings better than conditional, the company said.
According to the Journal, 48 companies with conditional ratings have been hauling Amazon trailers since early 2020, apparently violating the company's own rules. Evidence of this was found in government records.
Amazon has announced that it has suspended 39 companies from its platform, including MJS. The company says it has no record of working with eight of the companies, and that one does not currently have a problem rating. Mr. DasGupta says that Amazon's internal records show that six of the companies have continued to pull freight for Amazon after the ratings downgrade. He says that Amazon is investigating the lapses, five of which he says occurred in 2020.
In February, Amazon announced that it would only allow companies with DOT safety scores significantly above the government's threshold to join its trucking network. This includes the unsafe driving score.
According to an analysis by the Journal, companies continued to haul Amazon freight even after their scores grew worse than Amazon’s internal threshold. The government data showed that 375 companies hauled Amazon freight with scores worse than what Amazon requires, even after the company changed its rules. This includes more than 60 companies with worse-than-required scores in February that were still hauling Amazon trailers in June and July.
Amazon has announced that nearly 80% of the companies that were recently suspended or terminated are now back in good standing. Others, it said, have successfully contested their suspensions, or don’t appear in Amazon’s records.
Mr. DasGupta said that Amazon reevaluates contractors' scores on a monthly basis and gives them an opportunity to contest any suspensions. He added that in some cases, Amazon had suspended companies flagged by the Journal months or years earlier. The Journal identified one contractor in the government data who hauled 55 loads for Amazon after the date the company said it was suspended.
When asked about the discrepancy, Amazon said that 26 other companies had booked most of the loads that the suspended contractor was responsible for. Amazon said that it subsequently suspended 11 of those companies and took steps to suspend the rest after receiving questions from the Journal.
Amazon began its long-haul trucking effort in order to keep up with its own projected needs. The company recognized that the capacity of mainstream freight companies lagged behind its own needs, so it took steps to move its own freight. This included buying trailers and bypassing freight middlemen to deal directly with trucking companies.
The pandemic led to increased capacity constraints in the freight industry, according to the Journal. E-commerce boomed as consumers increasingly shopped from home, leading to a shortage of truckers and skyrocketing prices for freight transport, government data show.
According to former executives and drivers who have worked for Amazon, the company closely tracks on-time delivery performance in its freight network. Trucking contractors with strong on-time records are rewarded with priority access to book certain loads. Contractors that miss delivery deadlines and other performance measures are punished with quick suspensions, several truckers said.
Amazon has said that small numbers of performance issues would not necessarily be grounds for suspension.
As Amazon has increased its focus on freight, it has used contractors with repeat safety violations, according to an analysis of inspection records by the Wall Street Journal.
In September 2020, Amazon hired Marrosso Express LLC, a Dallas-based company that operated around a dozen trucks at the time. This came after a year in which the company and its drivers were cited about 30 times for speeding, ignoring traffic signs and other safety violations. These violations helped Marrosso earn the government’s worst unsafe driving score by that August.
Just weeks after the first accident, another Marrosso truck pulling a trailer leased by Amazon blew through a stop sign in Minneola, Kansas, and collided with another tractor-trailer. Both drivers were injured in the accident, according to a police report.
Tesfay Gebrewahd, the driver of the truck that hit and killed Marrosso, told police he had fallen asleep at the wheel. An investigator also determined that he had falsified logs meant to ensure truckers meet federal limits on how long they can stay on the road, a police report shows.
In an interview, Mr. Gebrewahd acknowledged that he had run a stop sign, but said that he had not fallen asleep. He said that his manager at Marrosso had fired him. He blamed the discrepancy in his driving logs on a malfunction in the device that tracks his hours. The person listed on company documents as Marrosso's main official did not respond to questions about the matter.
Amazon said it suspended Marrosso in May 2021 due to the company's unsafe driving score. This is one of the first such suspensions after Amazon began examining carrier's scores.
Truck operators such as United Parcel Service Inc. have a good safety record, with few serious violations. Since early 2020, state inspectors and police have only cited UPS for tractor-trailer drivers who kept false logs of driving hours in fewer than one in a thousand inspections. By contrast, they have flagged Amazon contractors at a rate about 70 times higher. UPS drivers are employees who receive salaries, rather than contractors who often are paid by the mile.
Amazon said it seeks to schedule and plan routes that ensure drivers don’t exceed the limits on driving hours. A UPS representative did not respond to requests for comment.
In March 2021, truck driver Justin Nzaramba left New Jersey pulling an Amazon rental trailer destined for a company warehouse in Idaho. He was working for Ohio-based ASD Express LLC, which had a poor record for unsafe driving, according to the DOT data. In the prior three months, the company had received three violations from state inspectors and police for falsifying driving logs, two for speeding, two for ignoring traffic signs and nine for vehicle defects while hauling freight for Amazon, government records show.
A couple of days into his trip, Mr. Nzaramba lost control of his vehicle and ran into a ditch in the highway median near Council Bluffs, Iowa, according to an Iowa State Patrol spokesman. He was cited for failure to maintain control of his vehicle. In an interview, Mr. Nzaramba said that after the truck was towed to a salvage yard following the Iowa wreck, he slept in the cab for three days before his boss paid the tow company. He said he had told his boss prior to the accident that one of the truck’s tires needed to be repaired.
Mr. Nzaramba said that the accident on March 31st was not his fault. He lost control of his truck and collided with Daniel DeBeer, a trucker from Ellsworth, Minn., who was heading east through Wyoming at the time. Both vehicles caught on fire, making it difficult for police to collect evidence.
The crash killed Mr. DeBeer. His widow, Kim DeBeer, said he had tried for years to find another line of work to avoid trucking’s long hours away from home. Kim DeBeer said her husband had been trying to find a different job for years because he didn't want to be away from home for long periods of time.
Mr. Nzaramba told the Wyoming state trooper who responded to the crash that his bosses had ignored his warning from Iowa that the vehicle needed repairs. He said that they had pushed him to drive even though he had warned them about the needed repairs.
The footage from the highway patrolman Josh Powell shows that the crash scene had signs that Mr. Nzaramba might have fallen asleep or become distracted for a moment.
Mr. Nzaramba was fined $90 for failing to maintain control of the truck. In an interview, he said that he had not been tired or distracted at the time. Mr. Powell, the highway-patrol officer, did not respond to requests for comment.
In a court filing related to the crash, Amazon said it had contracted with a different company, AAF555 LLC, to haul the trailer involved in the accident.
When Mr. Powell, the highway patrolman, was investigating the crash, he was told by an ASD dispatcher that the truck was owned by Zeromax Express LLC and had been leased to a company called Northwest Express LLC.
The four companies are all linked to two Uzbek businessmen. One of them, Komil Matkarov, declined to comment when asked about the companies. The other businessman could not be reached for comment. The driver of the truck involved in the accident, Mr. Nzaramba, told the Journal that he had never heard of Northwest or AAF555 before the accident occurred.
According to Amazon's Mr. DasGupta, subcontracting without authorization is not allowed in their contracts. He stated that they have been randomly auditing their contractors at warehouses to make sure the correct companies are picking up loads, and that this effort became more systematic towards the end of last year. He went on to say that this is an industry-wide challenge.
Amazon has said that it has warned or suspended about 1,200 companies so far this year in connection with violations of its rules.
In court filings, Amazon has argued that it has little role in overseeing the safety of its contractors on the road. The company has said that it is not responsible for ensuring that its contractors comply with safety regulations.
In response to a pending lawsuit by Ms. Leacock, whose young son was killed in the New Jersey crash, lawyers for Amazon argued that any damages to the boy’s family were caused by the negligence, carelessness, and recklessness of its subcontractor, Condor Riders, Condor’s driver, and Ms. Leacock herself.
The DOT conducted an investigation into Condor in the weeks before the June crash. The investigation found that the company had violated rules for keeping track of drivers' hours, and the DOT later levied a fine.
Edisson Izurieta, who used to own Condor, said that the compliance violations only concerned two drivers. He added that he would routinely fire drivers with multiple traffic violations. Izurieta explained that once drivers are on the road, "we cannot control all of that."
Ms. Leacock was driving with her mother and two sons to Maryland to celebrate her niece’s sixth birthday when they were involved in a serious car accident. A state trooper reported that two children in the back seat were enveloped in bent metal.
It took almost an hour to extract the children from the car, according to the crash report and dispatch audio. One-year-old Messiah was pronounced dead a short time later. Hilkiah survived, but with serious brain damage. Now 5, he speaks only a few words and uses a wheelchair, according to Ms. Leacock.
The state police have determined that the actions of the driver, Euclides Santos, were a contributing factor to the accident. He has been fined $302 for careless driving and tailgating, and has had at least six other traffic violations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to police and court records.Mr. Santos said that Ms. Leacock's Camry was stopped in the middle of the road at the time of the crash, but the police report contradicts that claim, saying that Ms. Leacock's actions didn't contribute to the accident. Mr. Santos said that he wasn't aware of the fines until the Journal asked about them in August, but he pleaded guilty to one of the traffic violations earlier in September and paid the fine on Tuesday.
Amazon has used Condor to haul its trailers at least twice in the month after the crash, inspection records show. This is likely due to the fact that Condor is a cheaper option for Amazon.
In August 2020, the DOT lowered Condor's safety rating due to its compliance problems. Amazon then suspended Condor's operations about two weeks later. The DOT fined Condor $9,800, and regulators shut it down last year when it failed to pay the fine, enforcement records show.
According to Mr. Izurieta of Condor, he is unable to pay because Amazon has barred him from picking up loads after the DOT sanctioned the company. He stated that before the accident, Condor's business was entirely with Amazon.
Last November, Mr. Santos was ticketed after making a left turn out of the access road of Amazon's Cranbury, N.J., warehouse, a copy of the citation shows. This resulted in a fatal accident.
The man was pulling a trailer with a handmade cardboard license plate when he was stopped by police. He told the officer that the actual license plate had fallen off earlier in the day. Police impounded the truck when it turned out to be unregistered.
Mr. Santos, who was working for Blue Feathers Trucking Corp. at the time, referred the police officer to his boss, Mr. Izurieta, according to the citation.
Blue Feathers was incorporated in the name of Mr. Izurieta’s then 21-year-old daughter three days after Condor’s safety rating was downgraded in August 2020, corporate filings show. This was likely done in order to protect Mr. Izurieta’s assets in case of any legal action against Condor.
Mr. Izurieta said that the timing of the sanction was "totally unrelated" to his involvement with Blue Feathers. He denied owning or running the company, and said that he merely worked there as an "adviser." His daughter, he said, started the company independently.
The daughter, Tais Izurieta, was not available for comment. Mr. Santos said that he had never heard of Blue Feathers and thought he had been working for Condor until recently. His driver's license is suspended and he is no longer driving, he said.
Amazon announced that it had suspended Blue Feathers on August 29, shortly after receiving questions about the company from the Wall Street Journal.
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