Unlicensed Banning Police Officer speeds, crashes Armored Military Combat Vehicle
11/22/13 – About 2 months ago, the Banning Informer broke the story about the secret acquisition of a controversial Armored Military Combat Vehicle (MRAP) by the Banning Police Department (view story). As it now turns out, while en route to Banning, the vehicle was involved in a severe accident on I-10. So far, this accident has resulted in over $ 42,000 in damage to the “self insured” Banning taxpayer.
To make matters worse, the driver of the vehicle, Banning PD Sergeant Joseph Karl Feola, did not possess a license to drive the 19 ton vehicle. Feola also exceeded the maximum speed for the vehicle allowed by the US Army.
The accident occurred in the late afternoon hours of September 16, 2013, on Interstate 10, east of Phoenix, AZ. The military combat vehicle, en route from El Paso, TX to Banning, suffered a tire blowout at 75 mph, causing its untrained and unlicensed driver to lose control and veer off the freeway.
As the tire blowout occurred, the vehicle swayed to the side and crashed into a brand new Ford F-150 pickup traveling in the lane next to it. It was only because of an extra wide median at that location, that the 19 ton truck did not hit oncoming traffic ( see above picture – the westbound lanes both trucks were traveling in, are visible in the background).
Luckily, nobody was hurt, however the pickup truck was totaled. Also a Chevrolet Impala rental car belonging to Enterprise-Rent-A-Car suffered a broken windshield from flying debris.
CONTRIBUTING FACTOR : UNLICENSED DRIVER
To operate any vehicle with a maximum gross weight of 26,000 lbs or more, the driver needs to carry a class “B” license (sec. 12500.(d) VC) . The subject vehicle, an International MaxxPro MRAP, is rated at 43,500 lbs (view manufacturer’s brochure).
According to the “Arizona Crash Report” on the accident, officer Joseph Karl Feola did not have the Class “B” license required to operate the 43,500 lbs vehicle (view crash report).
As a side note, in the Military drivers are required to take a 6 week long training course before being allowed to operate an MRAP.
CONTRIBUTING FACTOR : EXCESSIVE SPEED
According to his own statement, officer Feola admits to traveling at 75mph, which was the posted speed limit at the location. We can speculate that this was probably an understatement by Feola, as freeway traffic almost never travels at the posted speed limit.
But nevertheless, even 75 mph was much too fast for this heavy off road Armored Military Combat vehicle, which is subject to design limitations. The Army’s Handbook for the MRAP recommends speeds no greater than 25 mph, with an absolute speed limit set for the vehicle at 69 mph (see pages 23 and 24 of the Army’s MRAP handbook).
With an admitted 75 mph, officer Feola exceeded the maximum allowed safe speed for the vehicle by roughly 10 %. By doing so, he may have violated the “basic speed law”, as defined in Vehicle Code Sec. 22350 (California) or Sec. 28-701(A) & (D) AAC (Arizona).
CONTRIBUTING FACTOR : DISREGARD FOR HIGH TEMPERATURE
It is common knowledge among motorists that with increasing temperatures, the chances of tire blowouts increase exponentially, particularly when it comes to heavy trucks. Weather data for the area show an average temperature of 96 F, with a peak of 106 F on September 16, 2013 (view data).
Peak temperatures in desert climates are usually reached in the late afternoon hours, which is exactly the time the tire blowout occurred (5:30 PM). Therefore, high temperatures were likely a contributing factor, which the driver should have taken into account by reducing speed.
COMPLETELY BROKEN : BANNING’S CHAIN OF COMMAND
There can be little doubt that Officer Feola bears full responsibility for the accident ; it goes without saying that he should have never attempted to drive the vehicle without proper license and training. By doing so anyway, Feola broke the very laws he has sworn to protect.
But Feola is not the only one to blame. The record shows that he traveled with his immediate supervisor, Lt. Phil Holder ; both of them flew to El Paso to pick up the vehicle. As Feola’s immediate supervisor, Holder had a duty to verify that officer Feola was properly licensed and had received adequate training to operate the 19 ton vehicle ; Holder neglected to do so. For Holder to have ordered Feola to drive the vehicle without first checking his license, shows a clear lack of leadership skills on his part.
But Banning’s broken chain of command does not stop here. Documents show that former Chief Purvis personally signed off on the vehicle’s acquisition (view application). Purvis was also aware of the trip to El Paso by Feola and Holder (view email exchange), but failed to ensure that his officers were properly qualified to complete their mission ; by doing so, Purvis jeopardized public safety in the worst way imaginable.
Fortunately for the citizens of Banning, former Chief Purvis can no longer impair public safety by his obvious incompetence and lack of oversight. As previously reported, he has since been removed from his position. This, however, does not hold true for Lt. Phil Holder, who has now proven that he is not only equally incompetent, but also has a history of being dishonest, as he was caught lying under oath in the past (see previous story).
However, City manager Takata, who appoints the Police Chief, seems unconcerned about dishonesty or incompetence : after Purvis’ departure, Takata made Holder, along with Lt. Mike West, interim joint Police Chiefs. Go figure – and welcome to Banning, corruption capital of the Inland Empire !
The very Police officers that are entrusted with public safety, were also the ones that have jeopardized it in the most reckless way imaginable. Let’s not kid ourselves : someone could have easily been killed in this collision. Why are the officers involved not placed on administrative leave ?
NO SURPRISE : COVER-UP BY CITY MANAGER TAKATA
Another area of great concern is City manager Andy Takata’s behavior during the entire debacle. First, Takata claimed that he was unaware that the City of Banning had acquired the Armored Military Combat vehicle, a claim that is rather hard to believe.
Subsequently, about 6 weeks ago, on October 10, 2013, the City received a claim from Farmer’s Insurance in the amount of $ 42,173.75. This claim represents the value of the 2013 Ford F-150 pickup truck that was totaled in the collision. (view claim). The truck was virtually brand new and had only 301 miles on the odometer when it was destroyed.
Takata, however, failed to inform the public about this claim. Despite knowing about the existence of this claim, and amid public outcry demanding answers at Council meetings, Takata chose not to issue any press releases, neither about the acquisition of the vehicle nor about the severe accident and its consequences.
Even worse, to this day Takata has not provided any of the Banning City Council members with a copy of the $ 42,000 claim – instead, they will have to resort to the Banning Informer to read the document.
Cover-ups, like this one, are nothing new with Andy Takata : in 2011, during the oil spill debacle, he failed to inform the Council of a consultant’s report that had found that the $1.8 million cleanup bill was over inflated by more than $1.2 million. Takata recommended paying the bill, regardless. (view story and watch the posted video).
PLAYING EVERYONE FOR “STUPID” ?
Is City manager Andy Takata trying to play the Council – as well as the public – for “stupid”, via a complete cover-up of the facts ? Everyone on the Council and all members of the public should take great offense to his outrageous conduct. The Council should consider re-evaluating the City manager’s performance in public session as soon as possible.
Takata should also be ordered to immediately generate a full staff report, disclosing all details of the vehicle acquisition and the accident, identifying who bears responsibility and what actions – disciplinary or otherwise – are being taken to mitigate the problems that have arisen. Again, why are the officers involved not placed on administrative leave ?
Mr. Takata ought to be told – in no uncertain terms – that cover-ups are not the way to run the City of Banning !
The debacle involving Banning’s Armored Military Combat Vehicle (MRAP) goes to show that the chain of command is completely broken in the City of Banning. Something is definitely amiss when Police officers are going rogue, break the law, recklessly jeopardize public safety, causing over $ 42,000 in damages in the process, while at the same time Banning’s City manager chooses to cover up the ugly details to the best of his abilities.
Once again, Andy Takata has allowed for things to get totally out of control. It seems Banning’s City council will have their hands full, cleaning up the ugly mess he has made.
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