USDOT Agency Explains Why It Won’t Investigate I-35 Protesters for Hazmat Violations
Minneapolis, MN – The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has declined to investigate the Minneapolis Bridge incident despite expressing concerns about the “safety risks” posed by protesters.
Last month, the Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) filed a complaint with the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (USDOT OIG) and PHSMA regarding the bizarre incident that occurred on May 31 along Interstate 35 in Minneapolis.
Bogdan Vechirko, a 35-year-old owner operator, unintentionally drove his semi pulling a fuel tanker into a crowd of protesters, but remarkably did not hurt anyone.
Unforgettable video from the scene showed protesters jumping onto the truck and the tanker.
Protesters assaulted Vechirko and also stole his phone and wallet from the truck.
When police arrived, officers used a chemical agent to disperse the crowd fearing a possible fuel leak from the tanker could ignite a disastrous explosion.
In its complaint, the SBTC contended “a placarded hazmat tanker was unlawfully seized by protesters” in violation of 49 U.S. Code § 5104, which makes it unlawful to tamper with a motor vehicle used to transport hazardous materials.
Those found to be in violation face a fine and/or imprisonment up to five years, or ten years “if the violation involves the release of a hazardous material that results in death or bodily injury to any person.”
On July 10, PHMSA’s Deputy Administrator Drue Pearce responded to the SBTC’s complaint declining to look into the incident despite expressing concerns.
“I am also concerned about the safety risk presented by this incident,” Pearce wrote. “However, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s jurisdiction extends only to those offering or transporting hazmat in commerce, and does not extend to the activities of citizens who were engaged in the protest.”
Pearce indicated he would send the SBTC’s concerns to the USDOT OIG.
However, it is unclear at this time if the USDOT OIG intends to continue reviewing the matter any further.
Hennepin County authorities have already announced none of the protesters will be charged with assaulting Vechirko, nor the theft of his belongings and the damage caused to his semi-truck.