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Expert in lawsuit says Albertsons didn’t ‘exercise reasonable care’ before crash that killed Airmen on I-84

While Albertson’s Companies and Krujex Freight Transportation Corporation aren’t the only parties named in a lawsuit stemming from a June 2018 crash in Boise that claimed four lives, from a motor carrier standpoint, they bear direct responsibility, along with a fatigued trucker, according to one expert.

“If Albertsons had merely exercised reasonable care in investigating the competence and safety performance record of (Krujex) before retaining it, there is no question in my view that Albertsons would not have retained (Krujex), and certainly never would have continued to assign loads to that carrier even after this crash,” wrote Thomas M. Corsi, Ph.D, who specializes in supply chain management and strategies and policies for motor carriers at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

That’s according to a July 6 declaration Corsi wrote in support of a lawsuit filed by families of three of the crash victims against Albertsons and Krujex, among others. Specifically, he wrote in support of the families’ efforts to obtain punitive damages from both companies, as initially reported by the Idaho Statesman.

Corsi cites evidence Krujex conducted business in an unsafe way, claimed Albertsons employees were poorly trained on how to evaluate quality freight transport companies, and that Albertsons only stopped doing business with the company in April 2019, with the lawsuit on the horizon.

The Crash

Late on the night of June 16, 2018, Krujex driver Ilya Tsar, 42, was headed east on I-84 through Boise, bound for Massachusetts, carrying a shipment of apples for Albertsons. Both court documents and law enforcement officials claim Tsar failed to slow for traffic upon entering a construction zone near the Cloverdale Road bridge over the interstate.

Tsar rear-ended another vehicle and the result was a seven-vehicle crash. In addition to Tsar himself, three people died in the ensuing fire, all of them U.S. Airmen stationed in Mountain Home Air Force Base: Lawrence Manlapit III, 26; Carlos Johnson, 23: and 21-year-old Karlie Westall.

In total, the crash spawned eight lawsuits, according to court documents, and cases have been consolidated. But Cori’s declaration came in a case brought by the Airmen’s families, among others.

Krujex’s “Major, persistent deficiencies”

The Idaho State Police would later say the crash was caused by Tsar’s “inattention” to the road ahead of him. Corsi wrote he believed Tsar’s “fatigue” was to blame, citing dashboard camera footage.

According to Corsi’s declaration, Tsar claimed the electronic logging device in his vehicle – which shows how long an employee drives – wasn’t working, so he kept paper logs. That wasn’t true, however, according to Corsi. The device in Tsar’s vehicle was working, and that he drove off and on all day through June 15, 2018, even though he claimed he was off-duty. On June 16, 2018, the day of the crash, the device shows he started driving at 7:15 a.m. and kept driving, off and on, until the crash occurred.

Tsar had a troubled history with regulation compliance. The lawsuit’s original complaint claims he had more than 20 driving violations in four states, including Idaho. In 2017, a judge issued a bench warrant against him for failing to appear for court on a charge of driving on a suspended license.

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Yet Krujex failed to obtain driving records of its driver prior to hiring them, according to Corsi, and Tsar never completed or furnished an employment application. Corsi alleges the company failed to ensure drivers underwent testing for controlled substances and alcohol as well. In addition to that, the National Transportation Safety Board found that, based on roadside inspections, Krujex’s driver out-of-service rate was 37.5% – more than seven times the national average.

Even though the company had been in operation since 2012, it never obtained a safety rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Corsi wrote.

“During the period leading up to the fatal collision on June 16, 2018, it is clear (Krujex) had major, persistent deficiencies in its safety management programs, policies and driver performance,” Corsi wrote.

Gary Montgomery, the attorney representing the company, confirmed the organization is no longer in operation. He said he couldn’t comment in detail on the case.

“(The case) proceeding in an orderly manner as it should,” he said.

He said he hoped, at the right time, the parties involved could resolve the case through mediation.

Albertsons

After the June 2018 crash, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a review of Krujex. The administration noted 22 violations and gave the company an “unsatisfactory” review.

Yet, according to Corsi, Albertsons continued to let Krujex handle shipments until April 2019. He cited testimony from Krujex’s owner in making the claim.

An Albertsons employee in charge of the corporate traffic group disputed that in a deposition, however, and claimed Albertsons stopped doing business with Krujex in August 2018.

A BoiseDev email to Albertsons spokespeople requesting clarification on this and other questions was not immediately returned.

Still, Corsi wrote, in his opinion, it was clear Albertsons should never have done business with Krujex in the first place.

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“The evidence shows that the Albertsons employees who reviewed (Krujex’s) application to become a quote ‘partner carrier’ were not adequately trained in and/or informed about how to determine the competency of a motor vehicle carrier and/or its drivers,” Corsi wrote. “…Because they were not adequately trained, they never undertook any meaningful inquiry into the safety management practices or procedures of (Krujex) even though they were aware of these shortcomings.”

The company should have known better, Corsi wrote, considering it has a fleet of its own carriers and conducts its own transportation operations as well.

“Prior to the June 16, 2018 fatal crash, (Krujex) had no safety fitness rating,” Corsi wrote. “Further, it had major deficiencies in its safety management programs/policies and driver performance as described above. Albertsons’ failure to investigate these issues, born of a failure to adequately train the corporate traffic group, is an outrageous breach of basic transportation safety protocols.”

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Tommy Simmons - Special to BoiseDev
Tommy Simmons is a freelance writer. He formerly covered crime for The Idaho Press in Ada County. He is a Colorado transplant, an award-losing journalist, and a fan of all things heavy metal. Follow him on Twitter

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