Counterfeit truckdriver hits school bus

| 3/8/2002

February 28 turned into the worst kind of nightmare for a Miami, FL, trucking company. Last Thursday, an Islands Trucking Co. Inc. truck was involved in a crash with a school bus injuring 16.

After the crash, the company said they had never heard of the driver, who was hospitalized with injuries. That's because Island's real driver, Anibal Gonzalez, was actually a passenger at the time of the accident and not behind the wheel at all. So who was driving?

Moises LaBranche was driving the Kenworth tractor-trailer from the southbound exit ramp of Interstate 95 at County Road 512 when according to witnesses he ran the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp and struck the school bus broadside. Both vehicles rolled over. An SUV traveling next to the bus also was damaged in the crash. Other cars driving behind the vehicles stopped and pulled occupants of the bus and rig to safety.

Land Line learned from Lt. Pembrook Burrows III, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, that LaBranche has convictions for failure to display a driver's license, two counts of driving with an expired tag, operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe condition, improper equipment, a seat belt violation and four counts of operating a motor vehicle without insurance. On Jan. 24, LaBranche's driver license was indefinitely suspended for failure to pay his traffic fines from Miami-Dade County.

LaBranche is reportedly a trucker, however, and had a previous accident in 1999 while driving for Coastal Catering Inc. In that accident he also rolled a rig after exiting a ramp. He has never worked for Islands Trucking.

Islands Trucking has suspended Gonzalez without pay pending the outcome of the police investigation. According to Florida Today, trucking company co-owner Kim Hawkins said Gonzalez had worked for the company three months and had a good record.

"Company policy prevents any unauthorized ride-a-longs in company vehicles," Hawkins told Florida Today, "all the drivers are told about the policy because the insurance company covers only the driver."

The company's liability is still being investigated," said Hawkins. "We are still trying to figure it out."
--Donna Carlson, staff writer