A Local 2 investigation has exposed a Houston truck driver drinking alcohol on the job and then getting behind the wheel on Houston freeways.
The unidentified driver is employed by Sprint Waste Services. The company says it suspended the driver pending an internal investigation.
"It got our attention knowing they were driving these big trucks," said a neighbor who called Local 2 Investigates after seeing the driver park his truck behind a Texas City restaurant and then watching the driver sit at the bar.
"It wasn't just one time. It was Monday through Friday, just about every day," the neighbor said. “You look at what they're drinking and of course you see alcoholic beverages. Someone needed to look into it."
Local 2 Investigates used hidden cameras to watch the driver on five separate days. Each time, the driver showed up, got out of his big truck, and then sat at the bar inside the restaurant. Local 2's hidden cameras rolled as the driver ordered and drank frozen margaritas. Some days he drank two margaritas in an hour.
Other days, the driver drank three margaritas in one hour. Every drink served to this driver came from the same batch of margaritas served to everyone else in the restaurant.
After drinking, the driver left the bar, got behind the wheel of his truck and hit the road. His route took him through Texas City, onto the Gulf Freeway and all the way back to the company's truck yard in southeast Houston. The total trip was 25 miles long during rush-hour traffic.
"Operating a commercial motor vehicle, even under small amounts of alcohol, is incredibly dangerous to the public," said Warren Diepraam, a veteran prosecutor and one of the top experts on drinking and driving laws in Texas.
Diepraam watched Local 2 Investigates' undercover video. He says the legal blood alcohol limit for commercial truck drivers is .04. That is half the legal blood alcohol limit of .08 for all drivers in Texas.
While there is no way for Diepraam or Local 2 Investigates to know the truck driver's level of intoxication from watching the hidden camera video, Diepraam says it does raise serious concerns.
"If a person has three (margaritas) within an hour, there's a good chance they're going to be well above a .04 (blood alcohol limit)," Diepraam said. "They're going to be close to a .08 or a .10. Seeing someone drive on a freeway after consuming one, two or three margaritas in a motor vehicle like that is very concerning."
"We're curious why we've seen you in there drinking margaritas and then driving a truck like this?" Investigative Reporter Robert Arnold asked the truck driver as he left the restaurant.
"I'm not drinking no margaritas," the driver responded.
Arnold then showed the driver the hidden camera video.
"I ain't drinking," the driver said. "That's a virgin margarita."
"You know it's not a virgin margarita," said Arnold. "We saw the bartender make it for you. I saw it. My colleague saw it."
Still, the driver denied drinking alcohol and climbed into his truck and drove off.
Local 2 Investigates notified the owners of Sprint Waste Services about the driver's actions. The company issued the following statement:
"Safety is the #1 Priority of Sprint Waste Services, and as such we appreciate this matter being brought to our attention. This is the first time we have experienced this type of allegation, and we take it very seriously. As soon as we were notified by KPRC, the individual in question was suspended pending a thorough investigation - which at this time is ongoing.
Sprint Waste Services has a Zero Tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use with respect to its drivers. We actually have higher standards and stricter policies than are required by the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). FMCSA requires that 50 percent of drivers be tested in random tests each year. In 2012, Sprint Waste tested 76 percent of its drivers, and we are on track to test over 80 percent in 2013.
Furthermore, our policy states that if a driver fails a drug/alcohol test, or refuses to take a test, he or she is terminated immediately. Additionally, we conduct random drug/alcohol tests throughout each year, well in excess of FMCSA requirements. We reinforce this policy in training and regular safety meetings with our drivers.
Sprint Waste Services is dedicated to providing excellent service to its customers, with a focus on safety, hard work and integrity."