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Crane company in crash has had some problems with vehicles, data show

TAMPA — A crane company involved in a six-vehicle pileup Thursday has seen its equipment ordered off the road by federal inspectors at a rate that is higher than average, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics.

The crash on Hillsborough Avenue at 56th Street sent eight people to hospitals, seriously injuring a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy, Deborah Walker, now in fair condition.

Investigators suspect that brakes on a 41-ton crane failed, and crane company Ray Anthony International pointed to a mattress left in the road, the Sheriff's Office said.

The company's cranes have been subject to random inspections 88 times in two years, Transportation Department records show.

Vehicles were taken out of service for problems about 27 percent of the time. Nationally, the average is 22 percent.

That sometimes relates to mechanical issues, said Lt. Jeff Frost, a spokesman for the motor carrier compliance division of the Florida Department of Transportation.

A spot check of Florida cases shows Ray Anthony cranes grounded because of weight limits, a flat tire and no lights.

Nationally, records show the company's individual drivers were inspected 141 times in the past two years, and 9 percent of the time the drivers were taken off the road, at least temporarily. The national average is 6.6 percent.

In Florida, several drivers were cited for not having medical records on them.

An employee at Ray Anthony referred a reporter to Tampa attorney Tim Sullivan, who did not immediately return messages left by phone and e-mail.

Frost said the state will assist the Sheriff's Office in its investigation of Thursday's crash by inspecting the crane truck for possible mechanical issues. He said the driver's qualifications will also be examined.

The vehicle was driven by Kevin D. Davis, 25, of St. Petersburg, the Sheriff's Office said.

Davis obtained a commercial driver's license in Florida about 10 months ago, records show. His previous state driving record included two speeding tickets, one from 2005 and another from 2006.

Ray Anthony's website lists 11 locations in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Its vehicles have been in six crashes in two years, federal records show.

There were injuries in four of them.

The investigation of this week's crash could take several weeks, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

The six vehicles in the pileup included a HART bus that had a video camera aimed at the road. HART turned over the video to the Sheriff's Office. Carter would not discuss the video or the findings so far.

Investigators are looking into the claim that a mattress in the road may have interfered with the driver's ability to stop, she said.

Reporters at the scene of the crash saw a mattress in the undercarriage of the crane.

Kris Carson of the state Transportation Department guessed that it could not have been left in the intersection for long.

Both Hillsborough and 56th Street are state roads, which means the department is responsible for clearing away dangerous debris such as tree trimmings or other items that have fallen off trucks. Carson said the agency regularly dispatches workers to do so.

"It's not like it's a bag of trash you're talking about," she said. "If you've got something large in the road, it needs to be removed immediately."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Crane company in crash has had some problems with vehicles, data show 09/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 18, 2010 1:06am]

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