Final sentences handed down in Michigan emissions 'delete' case

Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024:

Diesel Freak shop gets $750K fine for deleting emissions

The final company and the last few individuals charged in a case related to deleting emissions controls on trucks have been sentenced.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten announced Feb. 23 that truck shop Diesel Freak and several individuals were sentenced for violating the Clean Air Act by engaging in an aftermarket scheme to disable the emissions control systems of semi-trucks.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Maloney confirmed the felony convictions of Diesel Freak, LLC, of Gaylord, Michigan, and ordered the business to pay a fine of $750,000 and serve a term of probation. It was the largest fine imposed over the course of the case in which the court ordered more than $1.8 million in fines.

[Related: The top 5 diesel fault codes, and emissions issues you can do something about]

Maloney also sentenced the owner of the business, Ryan Lalone, and two employees, Wade Lalone and James Sisson, each to 1-year probation. The hearing concluded sentencing for all 14 defendants charged in the case. In imposing the sentences, Maloney commented on the “systematic violations” of the Clean Air Act he said occurred in the case.

 “Holding corporations responsible for environmental crimes is tremendously important,” Totten said. “This case is one of the largest of its kind ever charged in the United States and today’s sentences send a clear message that polluters who break environmental laws will be held accountable.”

[Related: More companies, individuals charged for allegedly 'deleting' emission control systems]

Diesel Freak and the individual defendants pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act.

Diesel Freak designs and builds electronic monitoring and modification kits that adjust engine power and fuel efficiency through Wi-Fi connections with trucks on the road, according to a press release from Totten’s office.

During the conspiracy period outlined in the case, which ran from approximately 2015 through November 2018, when Diesel Freak was searched by the EPA, the company conducted remote reprogramming, or tuning, of on-board diagnostic systems, including deletions of environmental controls, allowing diesel engines for trucks to work cheaper, without environmental restrictions, causing pollution beyond that allowed by law, Totten added.

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Ryan Lalone estimated that 70% of Diesel Freak’s business was full emissions control deletions. Deleting emissions controls from the vehicles can improve performance and fuel economy and save maintenance costs but is unlawful and causes significant environmental harm, Totten noted.

“Exposure to diesel exhaust can lead to serious health conditions, such as asthma and respiratory illness, and contributes greatly to poor air quality -- concerns the defendants in this case ignored in favor of financial profit,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Lisa Matovic of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division. “The sentencings in this case show that EPA and our law enforcement partners will hold accountable individuals who disregard health and environmental laws designed to protect our communities from dangerous air pollution.”  

[Related: 'Emissions delete' scheme leads to max penalty for fleet, repair shop]

Knight-Swift makes leadership change

After nine years as Chief Executive Officer and member of the Knight-Swift Transportation board of directors, and 13 years as company president, Dave Jackson is stepping down, the company announced Tuesday. 

Adam Miller, who had been serving as Chief Financial Officer and President of Swift Transportation, has been named Chief Executive Officer. Andrew Hess has been promoted to Chief Financial Officer. Hess had been serving as Senior Vice President of Mergers & Acquisitions and Senior Vice President of Finance for Swift Transportation. 

“After nearly 24 years at Knight-Swift, it is time for a change and for the next generation to take the baton," Jackson said via statement. "Adam and Andrew are ready, the timing is right, the company is well positioned, and they have my full support. I look forward to my next chapter and to continuing to make a difference in the community.”

[Related: Knight-Swift spends more than $1B to buy AAA Cooper, enter LTL space]

Executive Chairman Kevin P. Knight expressed his gratitude to Jackson who he said, over the past nine years, oversaw "a period that has been transformational for the company and rewarding for our stockholders. Dave will always be part of the Knight-Swift family, and we wish him all the best.”

Miller called being tasked with leading Knight-Swift "an honor... and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Across our entire enterprise, I believe we have the best team of driving and non-driving associates in the business, great customers, and all the resources we need to continue as an industry leader. Together with Andrew and the rest of the team, we will be intently focused on expanding our LTL footprint, improving consolidated margins, and generating free cash flow and stockholder returns.”

[Related: Knight-Swift acquiring U.S. Xpress for more than $800 million]

Carroll Community College training truckMilestone for college CDL program | October 2023 marked the one-year anniversary of opening the on-campus Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) training range at Carroll Community College in Westminster, Maryland. In partnership with North American Trade Schools (for equipment, as pictured) and Carroll County Workforce Development (for tuition support for students), Carroll offers a comprehensive CDL truck driving program, with 280 hours of training that sets students up to take their Class A CDL test. Eight of 33 students who completed the program in the first year were women, the school noted in marking the anniversary. 64-year-old Lisa Conklin upgraded her CDL-B to a CDL-A through the college, and said she was "proud of Carroll Community College and the fact that I can live here and take advantage of this." North American Trade Schools (NATS) provides safe tractor-trailers like the one pictured, likewise instructors, to prepare students in accordance with state and federal laws.

Driver recognized for alerting trucker of trailer fire

David Garduno, a truck driver from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who drives for ABF Freight, has been named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association for stopping to help another trucker when one of his tires was on fire.

David GardunoDavid GardunoOn Jan. 9 around 1:55 a.m., Garduno was driving on U.S. Highway 64 in Kirtland, New Mexico, when he came upon another tractor-trailer whose rear double trailer’s passenger side rear tire was on fire. 

“I sped up and informed the driver his truck was starting to catch fire -- the trailer was catching fire -- and to pull over,” he said. “We both pulled over.” 

Garduno began to use his fire extinguisher to try to put out the fire but was unsuccessful. The fire was on molten metal. He advised the new trucker, whose trainer was asleep in the cab, to break apart the two trailers because he might lose the entire truck to the fire. 

Garduno noticed there was hazardous material in the truck’s load, as the other trucker called 911 for help. He then got his traffic safety triangles out and placed them on the road behind the burning unit to attempt to keep traffic at a safe distance. He also moved his truck away from it, as the fire department arrived. 

“The fire department came, and it took about two hours to put out, even though it was 10 degrees or less outside,” he said.  

A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Garduno credited staying calm to his military training. He felt obliged to stop and help the other trucker during the incident. 

“If I was in his position, I would want someone to help me,” he said. “You always gotta help each other out.”