Federal regulatory officials moved quickly to shut down an Anne Arundel County trucking company that opened at the same address as a freight hauler closed this month by authorities who cited a number of safety violations and seven crashes in the past year.
Clock Transport LLC opened weeks before federal authorities shut down Gunthers Transport LLC. Both companies listed the same address on Railroad Avenue in Hanover, and the head of Clock was listed in state and federal documents as the son of the head of Gunthers Transport. Authorities called Gunthers an "imminent hazard" to the public.
On Monday, Maryland State Police called Clock a "reincarnated carrier" set up to circumvent the shutdown order for Gunthers and vowed that troopers would repeatedly pull over any trucks linked to the address for safety inspections.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in a statement Friday that the regulatory agency had issued "an imminent hazard out-of-service order against Clock Transport LLC based on the company's affiliation with Gunthers Transport."
The order took effect this week. Described as a rarely used enforcement tool, the agency has now used such orders to put pull carriers off the streets twice in one month from the same location in Maryland.
The newest order targeting Clock was issued after one of its trucks failed an inspection during a routine check in Ohio on Oct. 20. It is the only infraction cited by federal authorities against Clock Transport, which started running trucks a few weeks ago.
Capt. Norman Dofflemyer, the commander of the Maryland State Police commercial vehicle division, said Friday that he served the out-of-service order on Clock Transport's owner. He said the owner told him they had pulled all their trucks off the road.
Owners and company officials at both entities could not be reached for comment. Phone calls to the businesses have not been returned over the past several days. The chief operating officer for Clock Transport could not be reached, and an attorney for Gunthers Transport has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.
In the shutdown order targeting Gunthers Transport, federal authorities included a provision aimed at preventing the company from starting up again and selling or leasing its equipment without their permission. The order said Gunthers "cannot avoid this operations out-of-service order by continuing operations under the name of another person or company."
Records filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and with Maryland's tax office show that Mark David Gunther Jr. established Clock Transport before the first shutdown order took effect Nov. 8. Clock obtained a U.S. Department of Transportation identification number in September, even as investigators from that same federal agency were looking into Gunthers Transport. Both are located at 7462 Railroad Ave.
Gunthers Transport and the former Gunther's Leasing Transport Inc., both owned by Mark David Gunther Sr., have been involved in a string of legal problems and safety infractions, including falsifying driver logs to mask driver shifts that exceeded federal limits.
Gunther's Leasing declared bankruptcy the same month it lost a civil lawsuit stemming from a 1994 crash on the Capital Beltway that left one person dead; a construction worker run over in the accident and left permanently disabled is still owed millions of dollars awarded by a jury.
The senior Gunther was convicted in federal court in 1995 of falsifying driver's logs and of perjury. He lost an appeal and spent 30 months in prison. Prosecutors at the time said he was the first trucking company executive in the country targeted for criminal prosecution for rigging his books. In the past, officials said they sought administrative fines or civil sanctions.
But the elder Gunther emerged from prison, declared Gunther's Leasing Transport bankrupt — his attorney at the time said Gunther's Leasing could not pay the $16.5 million civil judgment — and started a new company, Gunthers Transport LLC.
The old assets were liquidated but had substantial liens, making them useless to the creditors, according to lawyers at the time. The trucks and other items went from Gunther's Leasing to Gunthers Transport.
But federal authorities said Gunthers Transport continued to rack up safety infractions. In its shutdown order, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said the company had failed to keep its trucks well maintained and that continuing on the road "substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death."
The shutdown order accuses drivers for Gunthers Transport of being on the road longer than the federal limit of 11 hours, and found that one truck involved in a fatal crash in August on Interstate 70 in Western Maryland had worn tires, defective brakes and a turn signal that wasn't working. Police, however, said the accident was not the result of the truck's mechanical problems.
Over the past two years, the 18 trucks for Gunthers Transport were inspected 190 times and were deemed unfit for service 58 percent of the time, about three times the national average. Drivers were inspected 242 times over the past two years, according to carrier agency's reports, and were found unfit to be driving 15 percent of the time, also three times the national average.
The latest out-of-service order puts six trucks and 15 drivers for Clock Transport off the road. Police could not say whether some of the same trucks used by Clock had been previously put out of service from Gunthers Transport, but they did confirm that operations for both companies were from the same address.
Dofflemyer, of the Maryland State Police, said this week that the Clock Transport truck that failed an inspection on Interstate 70 in Ohio was taken off the road.
Records from the Ohio Public Utilities Commission show that the tractor-trailer stopped at scales and was found to have an inoperative headlight, a defective brake light and worn tires. The driver was cited for driving beyond the federal limit of 11 hours, was forced to take a 10-hour break and resumed his trip to Westminster after repairs were made.
Dofflemyer said that single out-of-state stop allowed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to target Clock Transport. Records filed with the federal agency show that Clock has had one of its trucks inspected since it started, and one infraction, the one in Ohio.
The driver of the truck stopped in Ohio, 42-year-old Jeffrey H. Davis, said Monday that he did drive longer than allowed but attributed that to a mix-up in his log-book. He said company officials never ordered him to exceed federal limits, and he described the problems found by inspectors to be minor and quickly corrected.