ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The latest and broadest sting in a crackdown on commercial drivers that has ensnared 173 of them since a deadly March tour bus crash has netted nearly four dozen more arrests of drivers of tour buses, New York City buses, taxis and other commercial vehicles, the governor announced.
The 46 arrested Monday were charged with felonies for holding commercial licenses even though they had other licenses suspended under different names, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Authorities made use of facial recognition technology that matches photos of driver's licenses issued under other names.
In the March 12 crash, 15 people were killed on a bus returning to New York City from a Connecticut casino. Since then, Cuomo has directed the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Inspector General Ellen Biben and the state Department of Transportation to work with local police and prosecutors to scrutinize the tour bus industry in New York.
The state Department of Transportation has made 1,960 surprise roadside inspections since March 17. State police issued 197 tickets and 173 bus drivers and 143 buses were sidelined.
Last month, nearly 100 buses and more than 100 bus drivers were removed from the road in surprise inspections.
The licensed drivers arrested Monday include four working for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of whom is a mechanic who also drives buses in MTA facilities. The driver's licenses are suspended pending court action.
"Many of the individuals arrested today obtained multiple driver licenses in order to collect benefits, and even worse, to conceal violent criminal histories," said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The March crash focused attention on tour bus safety nationwide. The bus in the crash was traveling at 78 mph when it toppled off an elevated highway and struck a utility pole, peeling off its roof. A passenger has said the driver fell asleep, but the driver has said he was alert and well-rested. The crash is being investigated.
A series of proposals offered last week by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would make it easier for the government to take away bus drivers' commercial licenses if they violate drug and alcohol laws while operating a vehicle other than a bus or if they fail to pay fines.
Other proposals LaHood announced would make it harder for tour bus companies to win permission to operate and easier for the government to put rogue operators out of business.
Tour buses transport more than 700 million passengers a year - nearly as many as U.S. airlines, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. In the year before the deadly March 12 accident, the group reports that 34 motor coach crashes nationwide that resulted in 46 deaths and injuries to 363 people.
Cuomo told The Associated Press that the 46 arrests Monday were the result of partnerships with authorities from the New York City Police Department and U.S. Customs along with prosecutors in Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties and in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Drivers accused of using aliases to obtain multiple licenses are being charged with offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records.
In addition, several drivers had a long list of pending traffic tickets to which they never responded and now face aggravated unlicensed operation charges. Others were wanted under felony warrants or had been sought for deportation. Nineteen drove taxis.
"With New York's use of facial recognition technology, drivers who obtain multiple licenses under different names now have no place to hide," Cuomo said Monday. "We will not tolerate dangerous buses and drivers or fraud in obtaining a license."
Most of the drivers had New York City addresses, but they came from elsewhere, including Sleepy Hollow in the Hudson Valley and Hempstead on Long Island.
The DMV's facial recognition technology, first used last year, has so far identified more than 3,000 people with multiple licenses. More than 600 were arrested on felony charges.
Like many states, New York is fighting a fiscal crisis, but the state's 160,000 bus inspections and follow-up inspections each year have been preserved, state officials have said. Recent agency cutbacks haven't and won't reduce the program, according to the state Department of Transportation.