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Antonio Reynoso

After 2 Deaths in 6 Months, Council Members Want Sanitation Salvage Trucks Off NYC Streets

This is what we are seeing way too often in New York City. Photo: News 12

City Council members, sanitation workers, and others will convene tomorrow to call on the de Blasio administration to suspend the operating license of Sanitation Salvage, another waste carting company with a horrendous safety record.

[Story updated below.]

Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the council’s sanitation committee, is expected to be joined by fellow reps Rory Lancman, Carlos Menchaca, and Brad Lander, along with members of various unions and Transform Don’t Trash NYC, according to a press release from Teamsters Joint Council 16.

Tomorrow’s rally will be held at 11 a.m. at 100 Church Street, outside the offices of the NYC Business Integrity Commission, which is responsible for regulating the city's commercial waste carting industry. It comes after a ProPublica report revealed that the same Sanitation Salvage worker killed two people with a company truck in six months, and lied to police about one of the crashes.

On April 27, a Sanitation Salvage driver hit Leon Clark on Jackson Avenue at E. 152 Street in the Bronx. Clark, who was in his 70s and walked with a cane, died at the scene.

NYPD told the press Clark was jaywalking, and did not charge or ticket the driver, though witnesses told the Daily News he was "going too fast."

On May 4, the Daily News identified the Sanitation Salvage driver as 33-year-old Sean Spence. The News reported that Spence also ran over and killed a "homeless man" at Jerome Avenue and E. Gun Hill Road, while on the job last November. In the immediate aftermath of that crash, NYPD blamed the unidentified victim -- telling the press he was attempting to grab on to the truck, fell off and was crushed by the rear wheels -- and filed no charges.

Hours after the Daily News reported that Spence was the driver in both crashes, ProPublica broke the news that the November victim was not a homeless stranger, but was actually working off the books for Sanitation Salvage. Mouctar Diallo, a 21-year-old immigrant from Guinea, had been helping two-man company crews pick up commercial waste for over a year before his death, ProPublica reported.

Authorities told ProPublica Spence and his helper fabricated the homeless man story. It was two months before investigators learned Diallo was unofficially employed by Sanitation Salvage. It's still unclear exactly how he died.

The morning Diallo was killed, ProPublica said, "A company supervisor eventually came to retrieve the truck and take it back to the company yard. Then, according to workers told about the night’s events, it was promptly sent back out without so much as a cleaning."

City officials have failed to hold Sanitation Salvage accountable for the deaths of Diallo and Clark. NYPD told ProPublica "lying to the police" is not a crime, and said the department lacks authority to “investigate the operations of a private sanitation company.” Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark’s office claimed there was no cause to investigate, since the Business Integrity Commission hadn’t alerted the DA to possible criminal activity.

The BIC has direct regulatory power over sanitation companies. But officials told ProPublica the commission took no action even after learning that Spence and his crew mate deceived investigators. The BIC said it recommended Spence be suspended after Clark’s death, and Sanitation Salvage -- voluntarily -- stopped Spence from driving its trucks.

Had the BIC acted immediately after Diallo’s death, Leon Clark might still be alive.

Based in the Bronx, Sanitation Salvage has 25 trucks, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Records show the company has been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in city contracts in recent years.

ProPublica reports that, in addition to a single employee fatally running over two people in six months, the company's trucks fail federal safety inspections at four times the national average.

Last week a coalition including Transportation Alternatives, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and Teamsters Joint Council 16 sent a letter to BIC Commissioner David Daniel Brownell, asking the commission to get the company’s trucks off city streets [PDF].

“The BIC has the power to immediately suspend a private carter’s license without prior hearing if the company’s operation ‘creates an imminent danger to life or property,’” the letter reads.

According to the letter, out of 12 inspections of Sanitation Salvage trucks in the last two years, 10 revealed safety violations so severe that trucks were ordered out of service. Of the city’s top 20 carters, the letter says, the company has the highest number of safety violations.

[Update: BIC Commissioner Brownell sent us this statement: “Upon learning the driver lied to the City about the circumstances of this fatality, we requested the driver’s suspension and have been diligently investigating Sanitation Salvage and its practices. If this investigation finds that Sanitation Salvage should no longer be operating on our streets, BIC can initiate the process to revoke the company’s license.”]

Inhumane working conditions in the private carting industry, which is mostly non-unionized, are well documented. Crews work overnight shifts, driving circuitous routes all over the city, for little money. Historically, operators of private trash trucks kill more pedestrians per mile driven than any other type of vehicle in NYC.

Mayor de Blasio has pledged to reform the way the city handles commercial waste. (Residential trash is handled by the city's Sanitation Department, which has a much better safety record.) However, recent reports from Politico and Crain's suggest that plan could be watered down.

De Blasio has shown no interest in penalizing carting companies that pose a danger to public safety. The mayor has declined to penalize Action Carting, whose drivers have killed five people walking or biking since 2008, but which continues to hold tens of millions of dollars in city contracts.

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