I-Team Report: Licensing Loophole

August 3, 2011 8:45:39 PM PDT
It was 1998 when the I-Team first reported that unqualified truck drivers had paid bribes to obtained Illinois' commercial driver's licenses or CDLs. Thousands of them couldn't speak English and at least 19 deaths resulted.

The bribes-for-license scandal snaked it's way to then-Governor George Ryan, who is still in prison, and resulted in sweeping CDL changes, including a requirement that you have to speak English to get a truck drivers license.

More than 10 years later, the I-Team found a catch.

His name is Andrzej Sakowski. He has had an Illinois truck driver's license for years.

SAKOWSKI: "No, ah, sp, sp, speak English.
GOUDIE: You don't speak English?
SAKOWSKI: No, no...I speak Polish.
GOUDIE: You speak Polish?
GOUDIE: How did you get an Illinois Commercial Driver's License? A CDL?
SAKOWSKI: No speak English.
GOUDIE: CDL. Driver's license.

Sakowski has renewed the CDL several times.

GOUDIE: "How did you get your driver's license if you don't speak English?
SAKOWSKI: 15 years I driving."

"He obtained it at the Hillside facility in 1996 and he's renewed it several times," said Dave Druker, Secretary of State spokesman.

According to Secretary of State officials, Sakowski first got his commercial driver's license in Hillside at a time when you didn't have to speak English.

That changed in 1999 after an accident was connected to the bribes-for-license scandal. Trucker Ricardo Guzman, who didn't speak English, couldn't understand drivers trying to warn him that a metal part was about to fall off his vehicle. The piece hit a van which exploded, killing six children inside.

That case, and others like it, caused the CDL test rules in Illinois to be changed.

"One of the requirements to get a commercial drivers license is to be able to understand English so we do want to see if that's the case with this gentleman," said Druker.

Sakowski came to the I-Team's attention following an accident that occurred on the Tri-state Tollway last February on the night of the big blizzard. According to a police report, Sakowski, in his personal van, was ticketed for driving too fast and failure to reduce speed when he improperly changed lanes and crashed into a car, forcing it to a concrete barrier.

"I'm like, 'oh my God, he's going to hit me,' and bam, bam, that's exactly what happened...We were both interviewed by the state trooper. The guy was issued a ticket and when I found out that he had a CDL it kind of blew me away because you've got to speak English in order to have a CDL," said Lajeana Abdulrahmaan, accident victim.

The I-Team attempted to speak with Sakowski's wife about how her husband has managed to hold a CDL for 15 years.

GOUDIE: "You cannot have a commercial drivers license in Illinois if you don't speak English.
SAKOWSKI'S WIFE: He speak English but not very well speak English."

So, for the Illinois Secretary of State's office, the question is: how is it possible that Andrzej Sakowski fell through the cracks?

"Once you pass the original testing, if you don't have any tickets, and when he did renew, he simply had to take the vision test and he did pass them," said Druker.

Because Sakowski couldn't speak English and could not provide his side of last February's accident, his insurance company is refusing to pay for the victim's damages that total almost $5,500. Ironically, the victim is a CTA bus driver who has held a CDL for 12 years.

"If you can't speak English or read English it's unsafe for people to be out there in that condition. I would like to know how the sec of state issued him a commercial driver's license," said Abdulrahmaan.

She says that she'd also like Mr. Sakowski's insurance company to pay up. Secretary of State officials say they plan to call in Sakowski and that it is likely his commercial driver's license will be revoked. The bigger question is: how many other Illinois truck driver's are out there, who can't speak English but renew their license with only a vision test.

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