More time passes and the case builds with each weigh-in. Citations eventually could build to a crescendo like Jan. 8. That was when the City Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint with 17 defendants and 16 counts.
The potential damages paid could total about $125,000, with Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal footing a good portion of the bill. From between June and October 2012, the Long Beach Police Department’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Team built the case — tracking down overweight vehicles traveling around the city, mostly near the Port of Long Beach, coming from the terminal.
“Our goal is not to necessarily punish people who are driving overweight vehicles — our goal is to gain compliance,” City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said. “Overweight vehicles destroy our streets and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Beyond that, Officer Sean Parilla said, some of those trucks are dangerously front or back-loaded and might tip over and cause catastrophic traffic accidents — there have been fatal accidents attributed to the problem.
“When companies exceed those restrictions, it puts the motoring public into imminent danger,” he said. “The vehicle mechanics are not the same and the drivability of the vehicle is impaired. So what we are out there doing is looking for dangerous trucks and companies loading these trucks over weight.”
The Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Team is made up of two officers and one detective. The small police detail covers the entirety of the city, but Parilla noted that most of their time is taken up near the Port of Long Beach, where large trucks embark hourly. The enforcement regulations come from the California Vehicle Code and some specific federal rules.
Mainly, trucks and semis are allowed about 80,000 pounds of cargo. There are permits companies and truckers can get that allows for slightly more weight, but the added weight comes with added vehicle stipulations like extra axles, extra length and specific instructions for loading that weight.
Many of the vehicles that are violators push the weight up to 95,000 or 100,000 pounds, Parilla said. During patrol on Monday, Parilla came upon a vehicle specifically marked overweight — which generally implies that driver has a permit.
The enforcement team has a nearby weigh station it uses to check on vehicles. The truck had a permit that called for an extra axle and for the weight to be distributed 20,000 up front, 43,500 over the drive and 43,500 at the trailer.
For trucks that were not complying like that truck, the misdemeanor changes typically come in at about 95 cents each pound greater than 10,000 pounds overweight — resulting often in close to $20,000 fines.
“There’s a whole group of trucking companies trying to avoid us,” Parilla said. “They go as far as to know our schedules. There are several companies, honestly, I think they just don’t care.”
On the flip side, he added, most of the companies are very hands on and very adamant about following the rules — the majority, in fact.
These trucks can be hauling all manner of goods. The truck pulled over Monday had oranges and was right on the button of that 43,500 sitting above the trailer. Parilla said he has encountered cargo as goofy as a trailer full of only eggrolls likely heading out to Panda Express.
But when he and his colleagues see a violator, they often know before they get confirmation in the weigh station.
“You can see how it leans, and this will sound funny, but you can hear how it creaks,” Parilla said.
One of the worst offenders he can remember was a big truck lugging cement bags. The driver could only make the truck go about 15 mph and the cargo was so overweight that the wheels were pressing against each other and grinding rubber.
When the violations become too common, a case is built and the enforcement team works closely with the City Prosecutor’s Office.
“This is one of those rare areas of the law where the fine is not capped at $1,000 for a misdemeanor,” Haubert said. “A company that does a lot of business, if they are habitually overloading vehicles, they could face thousands and thousands of dollars worth of fines every day.”
Last year, the City Prosecutor’s Office reached a settlement of $460,000 with Pacific Coast Container, stemming from a case with 47 misdemeanor counts.
“Not everyone understands the risks, but you can see them out here,” Parilla said. “It’s dangerous, not only for the driver of the truck, but the public around them as well.”