The private waste management company whose driver killed two people on the streets of New York City in the last six months—one of whom was their own employee that they initially claimed was a random pedestrian—still has a license to collect garbage. On Wednesday, City Councilmembers, Teamsters, and safe streets advocates rallied outside the city agency charged with regulating the private carting industry to demand that they revoke Sanitation Salvage's license.
"Why has BIC never, never, ever denied or suspended a hauler for a pattern and practice of unsafe [driving] and a complete disregard for safety standards?" said Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the council's Sanitation Committee, referring to the Business Integrity Commission, which oversees private carting.
"Today I'm calling BS on this industry," Reynoso added. "They've done absolutely nothing to improve the conditions for their workers, clean up their trucks or improve the efficiency of their routes. And we see the results. Two men dead at the hands of the same driver."
That driver, Sean Spence, struck and killed 21-year-old Mouctar Diallo in November. According to a ProPublica report, Spence initially told police that Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who lived with his mother, was a random person who lept onto the truck. Local TV stations and the Daily News reported that the man was "homeless."
When investigators learned that Diallo was actually a helper working for Sanitation Salvage, they did nothing to sanction Sanitation Salvage or Spence.
The New York Police Department said lying to the police was not a crime. The department maintains it did a thorough investigation, collecting witness statements, 911 calls and videotape from the scene. The police, a spokesman said, had no authority to investigate the operations of a private sanitation company.
A spokeswoman for the Bronx district attorney said the Business Integrity Commission had made no criminal referral to prosecutors about the conduct of Sanitation Salvage’s employees and thus prosecutors had no cause to investigate further.
On April 27th, Spence fatally struck 72-year-old Leo Clarke as he was walking across the street in the Bronx. Sanitation Salvage suspended the driver, but the NYPD determined that there was no criminality involved.
Reynoso was joined in calling for Sanitation Salvage's license to be revoked by Councilmembers Ben Kallos, Helen Rosenthal, and Carlina Rivera.
“The recent accidents are absolutely tragic, and we are saddened by the untimely loss of life," Lee Silberstein, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement. "However, our operation is predicated upon three important principles: 1) safety, first and foremost; 2) fulfilling a crucial need for our customers and the city; and 3) being a good neighbor. A complete review of our record and operation will show that we live by these principles and a revocation of our ability to do business is unwarranted.”
Daniel Brownell, the Commissioner of the BIC, said, “Upon learning the driver lied to the City about the circumstances of this fatality, we requested the driver’s suspension and have been diligently investigating Sanitation Salvage and its practices. If this investigation finds that Sanitation Salvage should no longer be operating on our streets, BIC can initiate the process to revoke the company’s license.”
"As horrendous as these events are, as egregious as Sanitation Salvage's behavior is, there is not simply one bad apple, the whole orchard is rotten here," Reynoso told the crowd. "The private sanitation industry is out of control. Many of Sanitation Salvage's routes had over 1,000 stops, and this is not uncommon in the industry. 1,000 stops in one shift."
In 2016, the City's Sanitation Department published a study showing that by dividing the city up into different collection zones, and only allowing certain private carting companies to pick up commercial waste in their respective zones, commercial truck traffic could be reduced by as much as 68 percent.
"Reducing commercial collection truck traffic will lead to cleaner air, less traffic, safer streets, and quieter nights in neighborhoods across New York City," the report stated.
A spokesperson for the Sanitation Department said they intend to release their implementation plan this summer. The Department has suggested it will take around three years to put into place.
Allan Henry, a helper at Action Carting, also attended the rally. Henry said he hangs off the back of the truck collecting trash and dumping containers. He said he usually works 60-75 hours a week. When he started 6 years ago he was working 80 hours a week.
Action Carting describes itself as "the most progressive and innovative provider of non-hazardous waste management services," but its drivers have killed at least five pedestrians and cyclists since 2008.
"It's real pressure, you want to get done at a certain time, at the same time you don't want to hurt yourself—you want to be in physical good health—and it's hard to do that working six days a week," Henry told Gothamist.
He added that there are close calls almost every night. "It's just normal now, every night is the possibility that something will go wrong. It's getting to the point where they need to make a major change now or something worse could happen."
As for Diallo's death, Henry said that "it's unfortunate he lost his life, but this is going to provoke change in the industry."
Additional reporting by Christopher Robbins.