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U-Haul Company of Pennsylvania and Former Manager Sentenced for Violating DOT Hazmat Regulations; U-Haul Pays $1 Million Fine

On May 6 and 7, 2019, Miguel Rivera and U-Haul Company of Pennsylvania (U-Haul of PA), respectively, were sentenced in U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, for felony violations of DOT’s hazardous materials (hazmat) regulations. Rivera was sentenced to 2 years’ probation, 100 hours of community service, and $2,200 in fines. U-Haul of PA was sentenced to a $1 million fine, 2 years’ probation, an $800 assessment, and to implement a compliance program for 2 years to ensure adherence to DOT’s hazmat regulations and the safety of its employees and the public. On January 29, 2019, U-Haul of PA and Rivera pleaded guilty to criminal hazmat violations, as well as aiding and abetting.

Rivera was the former general manager of the U-Haul of PA located in Hunting Park, Philadelphia. In addition to maintaining one of the largest rental fleets in the do-it-yourself moving industry, U-Haul of PA is one of the Nation’s largest retailers of propane, which is classified as a hazmat.

DOT-OIG initiated this investigation after a propane cylinder exploded on a food truck on a Philadelphia street on July 1, 2014. When the cylinder ruptured, the escaping propane ignited, briefly enveloping the food truck in a fireball. The cylinder exploded, killing two people, including a mother and her teenage daughter, and seriously injuring several others. 

The investigation revealed that U-Haul of PA, aided and abetted by Rivera, willfully and recklessly allowed untrained workers to fill propane cylinders—a violation of DOT’s hazmat regulations. To ensure safety of all parties, DOT regulations permit only trained and certified persons to handle propane unsupervised. As the manager, Rivera was fully trained and certified to handle propane; yet he requested or required his employees to do so, knowing they had not been trained. U-Haul of PA and Rivera admitted that they allowed two untrained workers to fill propane cylinders more than 60 times during a single 3-week period in June and July 2014, in violation of the law and the company’s own policy. The court-imposed compliance program requires U-Haul of PA to ensure that untrained employees do not fill propane cylinders and that all cylinders are filled in accordance with DOT's hazmat regulations, and to record the serial number and qualification date of every filled cylinder.

DOT-OIG conducted this investigation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, with substantial assistance from the Philadelphia Police Department, Philadelphia Fire Department, and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.