AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

'Reincarnated' carriers a threat to Georgia drivers

Thirteen people have died since April in a series of accidents involving tractor-trailers on Interstate 16 in Georgia. Other accidents involving big rigs seem to create traffic nightmares every week in Metro Atlanta, such as Tuesday's accident on I-285 at Spaghetti Junction and a Friday accident on I-75 in Clayton County.

While those accidents are all still under investigation, motorists are demanding to know why authorities aren't getting dangerous trucks off Georgia highways. So AJC Watchdog is taking a look at enforcement gaps that could put the driving public at risk.

A bizarre Georgia case points to one reason: Reincarnated carriers. Federal authorities have a hard time detecting  companies that spring back to life under new names after they are ordered to shut down.

Case in point is a Cordele company. After it was implicated in an Alabama crash that killed seven people in 2008, federal authorities ordered it to shut down.

That didn't stop owner Devasko Lewis, operating Lewis Trucking. He quickly formed DDL Transport and kept operating until authorities once again caught up with him. Lewis was then criminally charged. Before he was even sentenced, though, Lewis and his brother, Lacey, used the IDs of friends to operate two other companies, Eagle Transport and Eagle Trans. From prison, Devasko Lewis kept on operating those firms with the help of others.

In 2013, federal authorities caught up with Lewis again, filing new criminal charges.

So Lewis devised another plan. He hired a hit man to kill a witness expected to testify against him. But the hit man killed the wrong person and a Houston County, Georgia, jury convicted Lewis of the murder. This past April, Lewis was sentenced to life in prison. The hit man also drew a life sentence. Last month, his brother Lacey was sentenced to 24 months probation for conspiring to violate the order issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The victory may be a rare one. In 2014, the agency got new powers to shut down reincarnated carriers. But the federal agency admits that it's still hard to nab them. It has been working on a vetting program and hopes to incorporate it with a new electronic registration expected to launch in October. But the agency admits that rolling out its enhanced vetting process to all motor carriers "will pose a significant challenge."

Translated: Don't expect anytime soon that the system will weed out rogue operators.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.