The operator of a gasoline hauling company tied to two fatal explosions has been accused in federal court of continuing to use dozens of potentially unsafe tanker trucks to haul gasoline, ethanol, and diesel fuel across Southern California.
Investigators have identified at least 42 gasoline tank trailers, " … as posing safety dangers and/or lacking safety documentation," according to a court filing.
"The government alleges there are unsafe trucks on the roadways on a regular basis," said Assistant United States Attorney Matt O'Brien, who's prosecuting the case.
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NBC4 watched Tuesday as federal agents wearing raid jackets searched a truck yard in Corona where one of the fatal explosions occurred nearly four years ago.
Agents with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General's Office have accused trucking company owner Carl Johansson of allowing welding without required certifications, a seemingly innocuous administrative violation of U.S. hazardous materials transportation regulations.
But a 72-page court filing alleges Johansson used a variety of schemes to dodge safety regulators, and continued operating a gasoline trucking business since the first fatal explosion 25 years ago.
In September 1993 a welder was killed at a truck yard in Montebello when fumes ignited while the welder was making repairs to the inside of a gasoline tank trailer. Five years later Johansson pleaded guilty to federal hazardous materials violations and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, according to court documents.
On May 6, 2014 another welder, Samuel Enciso, was killed in an explosion at the truck yard in Corona when a welding torch ignited gasoline fumes.
"Enciso was dismembered and declared dead at the scene," wrote a federal agent. A second welder was burned over 50 percent of his body but survived.
As a result of the 2014 fatality the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an emergency "Out of Service Order" to Johansson and his companies, prohibiting the operation of gasoline tank trailers.
According to the criminal complaint, Johansson then changed the company name, paid employees through another entity, and allegedly continued to use the same trailers.
A Congressional study characterized trucking companies that mask ownership in order to avoid regulation or other safety enforcement as, "chameleon carriers."
"This is a chameleon carrier case," O'Brien said. "I think that’s exactly what’s going on here."
Johansson was arrested during Tuesday's search and is being held pending a bail hearing set for next week. He made an initial appearance in federal court in Riverside Wednesday.
"We’re still reviewing the evidence and have no comment at this point," said Johansson’s defense attorney Trent Packer.
Two other men, Enrique Garcia, described as the firm's manager, and Donald C. Spicer, an employee, face the same federal charge, authorities said.
Johansson also faces state labor code charges in a separate case stemming from the same 2014 fatality, according to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.