A New York long-haul truck driver who investigators say caused a fiery crash on Interstate 84 that killed him and three Mountain Home airmen had a multitude of traffic violations in Oregon, Idaho and other states.
One commercial trucking expert who reviewed Illya D. Tsar’s driving record described it as “amongst the worst I have seen.”
“His record should have been a red flag to anybody who was considering the employment of his services, or the continuation of his employment as a truck driver,” said Paul Herbert, a former trucker who runs the Western Motor Carrier Safety Institute in California.
An investigation by the Statesman into Tsar’s driving record revealed more than 20 driving-related violations in four states — most in Oregon and Idaho — and evidence of more violations in other states.
Tsar was a contracted driver for Krujex Freight Transport Corp., a small trucking company based near Portland. The company’s rate of driver out-of-service violations — which means the violations were a serious, immediate danger to themselves or others on the road — is three times higher than the national average, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records. Krujex did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
One of Tsar’s most recent charges was misdemeanor driving with a suspended license in Boise. He failed to show up in court on that April 2017 charge, and a warrant for his arrest was issued in January this year.
The 42-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, who lived in Rochester, New York, turned himself into the Ada County Jail on the suspended license warrant on May 10, according to jail records. He was released in less than an hour, a sheriff’s official said.
That was a little more than a month before the fatal crash near the Cloverdale Road overpass in Boise.
At about 11:30 p.m. June 16, Tsar was driving a 2019 Volvo tractor-trailer east on I-84 at about 62 miles per hour when he slammed into the back of a Jeep Wrangler that was stopped in a line of traffic due to a construction bottleneck, according to a preliminary crash report by the National Transportation Safety Board. The posted speed limit in that section of highway is normally 65 mph, but it was reduced to 55 for the work zone.
Senior Airman Carlos “C.J.” Johnson, 23, of Key West, Florida; Senior Airman Lawrence “Pit” Manlapit III, 26, of Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Senior Airman Karlie A. Westall, 21, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, were all killed.
The Jeep, while still being pushed by the Volvo, then struck the back of a 2003 Volvo truck driven by Roman Zhuk, 35, of Vancouver, Washington. Zhuk’s truck sideswiped a 2006 Ford Fusion driven by Toina M. Jorgensen, 35, of Nampa. Jorgensen and a passenger, Erika L. Medina, 25, of Nampa, were treated at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
Jorgensen’s Ford rear-ended a 2014 Ford F-150 pickup driven by Gerald S. Shumway, 69, of Boise, and sideswiped a 2015 Ford Escape driven by Fernando D. Nitu, 33, of Nampa. Debris from Tsar’s truck struck a 2010 Ford Focus driven by Rachel Colburn, 19, of Boise. The crash caused Tsar’s truck to be engulfed in flames. The fire badly damaged the Cloverdale Road overpass, and the Idaho Transportation Department plans to replace it.
The truck driver’s inattention was likely the cause of the crash, Idaho State Police investigators said in their initial report. Toxicology tests showed that he did not have alcohol or drugs in his system at the time; only caffeine was present, Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens told the Statesman.
Some local motorists felt that signage could have been better for the lane closures in the construction zone where the crash occurred. The ISP investigators’ report did not say whether they believe the construction, or how it was controlled, contributed to the crash.
Tsar’s history of violations
Through a GoFundMe account set up online, Tsar’s family received more than $28,700 in donations for funeral expenses. They have not returned phone calls from the Statesman, but Tsar’s 18-year-old son, Dmytro, told KBOI-TV that their father came to America from the Ukraine about 14 years ago.
Dmytro said he and his three brothers were raised in Portland and had lived in New York only a year when their father died. A database search suggests that Illya Tsar lived in Portland from at least 2010 to mid-2016. His cellphone number had a 503 area code (Oregon), a 2017 police report shows.
He had a valid New York commercial driver’s license, with an expiration date of October 2021. He held endorsements for double and triple trailers.
New York state driving records show that his license was suspended twice last year: on Feb. 2 and April 3. They are listed as his second and third “serious” violations in three years.
No specifics on those violations were immediately available, but the Statesman is working to obtain that information. Tsar met requirements to clear both suspensions on Aug. 2, 2017, records show.
The violations weren’t necessarily driving-related, Herbert said. For example, failure to pay child support could result in a license suspension, he said. A common reason for suspension is failure to appear in court.
Tsar’s record of violations in Idaho, Oregon and Washington since 2005 includes speeding, careless driving, not yielding to an emergency vehicle, driving the wrong way, not obeying traffic signal, overweight and failure to maintain a logbook. He paid more than $3,000 in fines and fees for violations.
In 2016, charges against Tsar of interfering with a peace/probation or parole officer, harassment and recklessly endangering another person were dismissed.
Boise arrest for driving without license
Commercial driver’s licenses are state-issued and recognized in all 50 states. Drivers may not hold commercial licenses in more than one state at a time. To get a license, drivers pay a fee and must pass written and driving tests.
States try to keep track of high-risk drivers through a point system, assigning points to specific violations and providing a threshold, or so many points in a given time period, at which licenses are revoked. It’s unclear how many points Tsar racked up because the Statesman has not been able to obtain his full record.
“Companies are required to do a driver record check every year but only out of the state where it was issued,” said Lt. Shawn Staley with ISP’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Section. “When we do an inspection, what we typically do is check all 50 states. We’ll check all jurisdictions.”
Would a trucker driver with a suspended license be stopped at a weigh station? Herbert said it’s not standard practice for truck driver’s licenses to be checked there. As long as a truck has a current inspection sticker — and it’s not overweight or draws attention for other reasons — it can roll through weigh stations without stopping.
“It’s not uncommon (for truckers) to go across the nation multiple times and not actually pull their driver’s license out and have it run,” Herbert said.
Tsar got stopped at Gowen Field in Boise in April last year, after a guard ran a check of his license. The guard notified police, who also ran a status check of the trucker’s license.
Tsar was cited with misdemeanor driving without privileges. The officer’s interaction with the trucker was recorded on his body camera, and the Statesman obtained a copy of that video. Tsar, who required a Russian translator at some of his court hearings, had trouble communicating with the officer. He indicated that he thought his license was suspended only in one state.
Officer John Mika asked Tsar the reason for his license suspension, and the trucker said he got a ticket in California.
“If it’s suspended in New York, what other license do you have?” Mika said. “ ... If it’s suspended in one state, it’s suspended everywhere. You don’t have a driver’s license, an active driver’s license.”
A Boise police spokeswoman said officers are trained to not let people with suspended licenses drive away. Mika’s report said Tsar was cited and “released from the scene without further incident” — it’s unclear whether Tsar drove off in the the truck.
“We don’t have any additional information about the citation given to Tsar, other than what’s in the officer’s report,” BPD spokeswoman Haley Williams said.
Was fatigue a factor in crash?
Idaho State Police have not finished their crash reconstruction report, and NTSB’s recently released report is only preliminary. State and federal investigators are still trying to nail down a number of things surrounding the crash, including how many hours Tsar had been driving that day. A Krujex manager twice declined to comment for this story.
Federal officials have said the general problem of drowsy driving in the United States has been underestimated in crash figures. One recent study estimated more than 6,000 deaths a year result from fatigue-related crashes.
The crash in Boise happened at about 11:32 p.m. At least one witness thought fatigue might have been a contributing factor.
Jeff Easterbrook was listed in the Idaho State Police report as a witness. The Statesman was unable to reach Easterbrook, but he posted photos of the crash on his Facebook page and described what he saw before the crash in the comments.
“A few miles earlier he was weaving all over and erratic with his speed,” he wrote. “I tried to get his attention on the CB radio, but he didn’t have one I suppose.”
Tsar seemed to “straighten up and be fine,” Easterbrook wrote, and then he thought maybe the trucker was “messing with his GPS or something.” But then, he said, “(Tsar) sped off at 70+ and moments later plowed into the truck.”
Federal law sets hours-of-service maximums for truck drivers: 14 hours in a 24-hour period, but they may not drive more than 11 hours during that 14-hour window. Then the driver must take 10 hours off before the next shift. Other duty limits are 60 hours in seven days and 70 hours in eight days.
Drivers are required to keep track of their time behind the wheel in a logbook. Tsar had been found guilty of at least two prior logbook violations in Idaho — specifically for driving longer hours than he should have.
Staley said Tsar’s load originated in Yakima, but he did not know where Tsar had been the day of the crash. Tsar was hauling apples to Massachusetts.
Truck drivers are now required to use an electronic logbook. Tsar did not have one, and when ISP inquired with Krujex, the company indicated that his device had broken a few weeks earlier and he was using paper to log his hours, Staley said.
“That’s not allowed. If it stops working, you can go to paper, but you only have eight days,” Staley said. “If you need more time, you need to petition with (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). He didn’t have that.”
Coming Monday: A night at the movies turned deadly for three young Mountain Home airmen.