FedEx Ground is one of the largest delivery companies in the country. In 2013, drivers traveled more than a billion miles delivering packages for FedEx Ground and its subsidiary, but not as employees. Unlike other delivery companies, FedEx Ground uses a network of independent contractors instead of employees to transport packages across the country.
FedEx Ground says the company vets all of its independent contractors, but as the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has uncovered, some companies with poor records may slip through the cracks, operate illegally on the roads, and put other drivers in potential danger.
That scenario played out on August 8th 2011, when Tiris Trucking driver Gubani Quinteros failed to stop for stalled traffic and crashed his 25,000 pound box truck on I-5.
Tiris Trucking was a third party contractor for FedEx SmartPost, a subsidiary of FedEx Ground. Quinteros was in the process of transporting FedEx SmartPost parcels at 70mph when he crashed into a car driven by the parents of Donald Taylor.
“Their bodies were burned beyond recognition,” Taylor told The Investigative Unit. The high school sweethearts were killed instantly before their vehicle burst into flames.
The accident totaled six cars, killing a toddler, and injuring seven others. Quinteros survived.
According to the California Highway Patrol’s accident report, Quinteros did not have a valid license to drive a car, let alone a commercial vehicle delivering FedEx packages. CHP records also revealed that Quinteros’ company Tiris Trucking was operating without proper authority from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and was placed out of service after the accident.
Taylor said Tiris Trucking had “just a multitude of violations, things that should have been red-flagged.”
Quinteros was found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, among other charges, and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
While Quinteros and the Tiris Trucking company faced repercussions following the accident, Taylor believes FedEx was not held responsible.
“Federal Express did not want to discuss the situation, did not want to talk about it,” said Taylor. “We made several attempts to contact them, they basically told us, not our problem, go away.”
The Investigative Unit also reached out to FedEx Ground to ask about the company’s business model, which allowed a contractor to be hired who was operating illegally.
In a written statement FedEx responded: “As a freight forwarder, FedEx SmartPost contracts with third-party vendors for transportation services...Those vendors agree to maintain their own [Department of Transportation] operating authority and as a result are responsible for any claims related to their operations.”
FedEx maintains that it makes sure third party contractors are operating legally by using a third party software vendor to monitor the Department of Transportation’s website for operating authority, insurance, and safety compliance.
Despite these efforts, Tiris Trucking managed to continue to operate and contract with FedEx SmartPost at the time leading up to the 2011 accident.
Departing head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Anne Ferro upholds that even though some companies dodge federal oversight, the penalties for poor safety standards are stiff:
“The highest penalty is we shut them down,” Ferro said. “What has to happen is strengthening of that safety net, of good strong rules, effective enforcement, accountability by the companies that are operating the equipment and contract for the services of these companies.”
Despite the tragedy of the Tiris accident, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit uncovered that a third party contractor may still able to slip through the cracks.
The Investigative Unit spoke with a FedEx independent contractor at FedEx Ground’s distribution center in Sacramento.
On hidden camera, the driver explained that “They save a lot of money” by contracting with drivers instead of hiring them directly.
The driver said that the company he works for delivers exclusively for FedEx SmartPost.
The Investigative Unit looked up the Department of Transportation registration number on the side of his company’s truck and discovered they have no insurance as of May 2014 and that their operating license has been revoked.
FedEx told The Investigative Unit that they stopped using this particular third party contractor in June after finding out it lost its operating authority. However, The Investigative Unit recorded the unauthorized company’s trucks leaving FedEx Ground distribution center and transporting FedEx goods on several days in July.
It’s a business model that Donald Taylor says allows FedEx to distance itself from responsibility when things go wrong, as was the case in the accident that killed his parents.
“His route is only a FedEx route. He does not do anything outside of Federal Express. Therefore they have and should have immediate control,” Taylor said.
Taylor decided not to sue FedEx after his parents’ death when his lawyer informed him that California law allows companies to hire third party contractors, protecting the corporation from liability.
Tiris trucking, which only had a few employees, is no longer in business.
The FMCSA tells The Investigative Unit that they are now looking into the third party contractor found during our investigation that is operating without valid permits.
Do you have a tip for The Investigative Unit? You can call the Investigative Unit’s tipline at 888-996-TIPS or send an email to TheUnit@NBCBayArea.com. Elyce Kirchner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.