24 Believed Killed In Evacuee Bus Fire, Explosion

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24 Believed Killed In Evacuee Bus Fire, Explosion

#1 Postby Skywatch_NC » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:03 am

24 Believed Killed In Evacuee Bus Fire, Explosion
TV Station Reports 24 Deaths


POSTED: 8:06 am EDT September 23, 2005
UPDATED: 9:54 am EDT September 23, 2005

DALLAS -- Authorities now say 24 people were killed Friday when explosions tore through a chartered bus filled with Hurricane Rita evacuees near Dallas on gridlocked Interstate 45, a Dallas County Sheriff's spokesman said.

The bus loaded with 43 passengers was engulfed with flames, causing a 17-mile backup on a freeway that was already heavily congested with evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

"Deputies were unable to get everyone off the bus," spokesman Don Peritz said.

By early Friday morning, the bus was reduced to a blackened, burned-out shell, surrounded by numerous police cars and ambulances.

Peritz said it appears a mechanical problem aboard the bus caused a fire that reached oxygen tanks belonging to the elderly passengers.

Peritz said the driver and arriving deputies tried to rescue as many passengers from the bus as possible but couldn't save everybody.

He said the bus left a nursing home in the Houston suburb of Bellaire Thursday, headed for facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

State officials said northbound traffic is being diverted off of Interstate 45 onto U.S. Highway 287 at Ennis, about 30 miles southeast of Dallas.

Interstate 45 stretches more than 250 miles from Galveston through Houston to Dallas.

Hurricane Rita
Forecasters say Hurricane Rita remains an extremely dangerous Category Four storm with 140-mph winds. It's turned to the right more than anticipated, meaning it may spare Houston and Galveston, Texas, a direct hit.

http://www.wral.com/news/5010437/detail.html
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#2 Postby Josephine96 » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:05 am

This is a sad story Eric.. Kinda makes the fact that I'm mad because I'm late for work obsolete.. :cry:

Prayers to the victims and their families
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#3 Postby Miss Mary » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:09 am

Very sad news. Yes more casualites before Rita even strikes. Will it never end? No need to answer.......
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#4 Postby Skywatch_NC » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:12 am

:cry: :cry: Those poor elderly peeps needing their life giving tanks of oxygen for congestive heart failure, emphysema and other respiratory ailments. :cry: :cry:

And this is the second bus to be involved in an accident...one carrying Katrina evacuees to Dallas had wrecked in LA killing 1 and injuring others. :cry: :cry:

Eric
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#5 Postby TexasStooge » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:14 am

Just saw the news early this morning. So sad. :cry:
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#6 Postby chicagopizza » Fri Sep 23, 2005 9:50 am

It's a heartbreaking story. :cry: To think your grandparent or parent is going to be safe from Rita and then this. May the victims and their families somehow find strength and comfort in the midst of the chaos.
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#7 Postby TexasStooge » Sat Sep 24, 2005 9:20 pm

Bus operator had financial, driver safety problems

Tour company is in bankruptcy, has numerous violations

By RANDY LOFTIS and STEVE MCGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Texas - A South Texas company that operated the chartered bus that exploded near Dallas on Friday has a history of financial troubles and driver safety issues, records show.

The owners of Global Limo Inc. were forced to file for bankruptcy protection in February to block a takeover of the business for nonpayment of debt. And for five days in early May, federal authorities revoked the company's operating license, for the second time since 1993.

James H. "Butch" Maples, 64, co-owner of Global Limo Inc., could not be reached for comment. A man at Global's office in Pharr, Texas, confirmed that Mr. Maples' company owned the bus filled with elderly evacuees that exploded on Interstate 45 near Wilmer.

The man would not give his name and declined to be interviewed. He said the company would issue a statement, but none had been released by late afternoon.

Global is described in federal court records as a tour company that operates nine buses. Mr. Maples, a one-time NFL player, and his 46-year-old wife, Kathleen, are listed as the owners.

In its most recent federal compliance review in February 2004, Global was rated "satisfactory." Its record during the past 2 ½ years reveals no major vehicle safety problems.

"That does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that there are no violations," said Jim Lewis, spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Even before Friday's crash, the agency had red-flagged Global for full inspections in the event a police officer stopped one of the buses.

Global has serious problems with its driver safety, according to federal regulators. The company's driver safety rating is 97, meaning it is worse than 97 percent of all companies.

In the past 2 ½ years, drivers for the company have been ordered to stop driving five times after traffic stops or other inspections discovered major violations.

All the inspections revealed that the drivers were not carrying logs documenting how long they had been driving at the time and how long they had driven during the past seven days, both federal requirements.

A few also uncovered equipment problems, and one found a driver who did not have a license to drive a bus:

•On Aug. 19, a Global Limo driver was stopped for speeding in Texas. A subsequent inspection also found that the driver didn't have the required logs.

•On June 6, an inspection in New Mexico revealed two unspecified violations of local traffic laws, plus three violations of the driver log requirements.

•On March 1, a roadside inspection in Texas found two lights or reflectors violations, three driver log violations, and a tire safety violation. A front tire had less than 4/32 of an inch of tread remaining.

•On Nov. 4, 2003, an inspection in Texas found a driver who was not licensed to drive a bus. That inspection also discovered a broken taillight and a driver log violation.

•On July 31, 2003, a roadside inspection in Missouri found an unspecified local driving violation, a damaged or discolored windshield, and a driver log violation.

Mr. Maples, a native of Mount Vernon in East Texas, has owned businesses ranging from photo developing to property sales to clothing sales to travel planning in Hidalgo County over the past three decades.

He and his wife incorporated Global in July 2002, but both owned bus leasing or touring companies under other names before then.

Mr. Maples has a long list of legal troubles. He has been sued several times over debts and tax liens and has closed several of his businesses, records show.

The state corporate charter for Global was suspended from June 2004 to February 2005 because of nonpayment of franchise fees.

In February, the couple filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, claiming assets of $522,610 and debts of $706,795.

The assets they listed for their tour business included nine buses with a stated total value of $176,000, $312,000 in charter contracts and $19,988 in cash.

In May, the same month Global's operating license was revoked, records show, the company pledged its buses as collateral for a loan.

Last month, the Mapleses had to request permission from the bankruptcy court to take out a $5,400 bank loan to continue insurance coverage.

A report filed by the couple with the bankruptcy earlier this month showed that their personal income had dropped from $10,000 in March to $2,600 in July. It rose to $4,900 in August. The same report showed they had $66 in cash at the end of August.

Johnny Partain has been arguing in and out of court with Mr. Maples for almost 10 years over an alleged business debt. Earlier this year, Mr. Partain used a court judgment to seize some of Mr. Maples' buses, a condominium and other assets.

Mr. Maples was able to regain control of his company and continues to operate while the bankruptcy is pending.

A phone call to Global Lines was answered by Mrs. Maples. She transferred the call to the man, who did not identify himself.

Mr. Partain, who said he worked in the oil business, said he first met Mr. Maples in 1997 when he purchased a bus from him for $30,000. He said that he leased the bus back to Mr. Maples for his tour business but that Mr. Maples had failed to make payments.

Mr. Partain said Mr. Maples' business consisted of ferrying elderly and retired people from Texas to casinos in Louisiana. The company employed several contract drivers, some of whom lived on the premises, he said.

State officials said Sunrise Senior Living Inc., the company that owned the nursing home whose patients were being transported from Houston to Dallas, was responsible for hiring Mr. Maples' company.
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#8 Postby TexasStooge » Mon Sep 26, 2005 6:59 am

Perry defends waiver in doomed bus trip

He says it applied only to expired registration, not safety standards

By SCOTT FARWELL / The Dallas Morning News

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday defended his decision to sign a waiver allowing a bus with an expired registration to transport elderly residents fleeing Hurricane Rita from the Houston area to Dallas.

Twenty-four people died early Friday near Wilmer when a fire spread from the bus's brakes into the cabin, where it ignited several oxygen tanks. It was the worst bus accident in Texas since 1952.

Sunday morning on NBC's Meet the Press and later on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Perry said the exceptions he granted for motor carriers did not put people in danger.

Tim Russert, host of Meet The Press, cited a Dallas Morning News story that revealed the doomed bus's registration expired in July.

"You signed a waiver to allow buses like that to go back on the road for the evacuation. Any regrets?" Mr. Russert asked.

"Well, we didn't sign any waivers to allow for any safety standards to be overseen, so the fact of the matter is we were trying to get as many people out of harm's way as we could," Mr. Perry responded. "And that type of registration didn't have anything to do with the safety standards that are required. So if we had to all do it again, [we'd] probably do the same thing because it's important to get people out of harm's way."

On Late Edition, Mr. Perry was asked a similar question about the bus waiver.

"We were very clear: This was to get as many vehicles on the road, to get people out of harm's way," the governor said. "But the safety requirements were absolutely not waived. So the answer to that is no. We needed to get people moved, and we did an extraordinary job of moving 2.5 [million], 3 million people over a 36-hour period of time out of a massive storm."

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board continued to analyze the charred remains of the bus Sunday morning at a Dallas County maintenance yard, where it was transported after the accident on Interstate 45.

The bodies of victims in the crash were so badly burned that Dr. Jeffrey Barnard, Dallas County's chief medical examiner, said it could take weeks to identify them.
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#9 Postby TexasStooge » Tue Sep 27, 2005 9:25 am

Bus driver had 1 ticket

Missing extinguisher among his violations before fiery crash

By STEVE McGONIGLE, JASON TRAHAN and TIM WYATT / The Dallas Morning News

HOUSTON, Texas - The driver of a bus that became a funeral pyre for 23 elderly Hurricane Rita evacuees did not have a fire extinguisher on another vehicle that he was operating earlier this year, according to state records.

State troopers who stopped Juan Robles Gutierrez three times between February and August listed nearly a dozen violations, including the missing fire extinguisher, but he was ticketed only once for speeding. Mr. Robles could not be reached for comment Monday.

Sgt. Don Peritz, a spokesman for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, said he did not know whether a fire extinguisher was on the bus that burst into flames Friday, killing 23 of the nursing home patients on board.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the bus fire, could not be reached for comment late Monday.

The victims were being moved from a Houston-area nursing home to facilities in the Dallas area because of Hurricane Rita.

State records show that drivers for the company operating the bus, Global Limo Inc., were written up for regulatory infractions 11 times and received tickets on nine occasions between January 2002 and August 2005.

One of the drivers was James H. "Butch" Maples, the owner of Global, which has its headquarters in Pharr, Texas. He was issued a ticket for violating a license restriction, but troopers also noted on commercial vehicle enforcement forms that he was driving with an inoperable tail lamp and no driving log and had failed to display insurance.

"He's been in this business for a long time, and he really hasn't had any problems until this time, which is, of course, a great tragedy," said Kelly McKinnis, a bankruptcy attorney who represents Mr. Maples.

Low safety rating

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Web site gives Global a rating of 97 on driver safety, meaning that it was among the lowest 3 percent of carriers.

Mr. Robles, the driver in the bus fire, was found to have 11 violations and one ticket – for speeding eight miles over the posted 70 mph speed limit. Other violations, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records, included having defective lights, failing to maintain his driving log and for being a non-English-speaking driver.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, it is legal for people with the equivalent of a commercial driver's license from Mexico to operate buses for U.S.-based carriers, said Tom Vinger, a DPS spokesman in Austin.

Mr. Robles, 37, listed his home address as Global's office in Pharr in one record and in San Nicolas de los Garza, near Monterrey, Mexico, in two other records. Two of the records showed him to have only a Mexican driver's license.

All but one of the other eight drivers listed in DPS reports listed addresses in the lower Rio Grande Valley and Houston. The ninth driver, who was 75 when he was ticketed in March 2002, listed an address in Ohio.

The Texas Department of Transportation also has confirmed that the bus involved in Friday's deadly fire had been out of service after its registration expired.

How that bus ended up hauling dozens of elderly hurricane evacuees from Houston to Dallas remained unanswered Monday, but state officials backed off previous statements that suggested a waiver issued by Gov. Rick Perry played a role.

Randall Dillard, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said the bus was not put back on the road because of an emergency waiver from the governor.

"We made a big mistake," Mr. Dillard said. "We just flat got it wrong, and I wish we hadn't."

On Saturday, Mark Cross, another spokesman for the state agency, was quoted in media reports as saying the governor's waiver may have allowed the bus back in service.

The blaze spread from the brakes of the bus into the cabin, where it ignited several portable oxygen tanks, in what became the deadliest bus accident in Texas in more than five decades.

Robert Black, a spokesman for Mr. Perry, said a vehicle registration waiver signed by the governor didn't go into effect until almost four hours after the incident.

"The bus left the Houston area on Thursday and tragically caught fire early Friday morning in Wilmer," Mr. Black said. "The governor didn't issue any waiver until 10:30 a.m. Friday."

Mr. Black said transportation officials made an "inadvertent mistake," the result of confusion over the timeline of events in the last week.

By Sunday morning, the story spread from Texas newspapers to national TV news talk shows and appeared to blossom into an embarrassment for the governor.

The governor's press office defended the waiver for almost two days before realizing the error, Mr. Black said. Staff members didn't read news reports on the issue until they returned from a tour of damaged and flooded areas around Beaumont.

Mr. Black also said a state disaster proclamation issued Sept. 20 by the governor contained no details that could have been interpreted as a waiver for the ill-fated bus.

"By itself, the [emergency] proclamation didn't do a whole lot but open the gate for the evacuation," Mr. Black said. "But it did not serve as a waiver for that bus. It couldn't have."

Mr. Black said the governor's waiver, addressed to Texas Transportation Commission chairman Richard F. "Ric" Williamson, never cleared the way for anyone to put an unsafe bus – or any other unsafe vehicle – on the road.

"Expired registration and safety requirements are two completely separate issues in this," Mr. Black said. "And neither had to do with the vehicle restrictions waiver."

Five names released

Also Monday, the Dallas County medical examiner's office released the names of five victims: Eldon Michael Boudreaux, 89; Adrian Flake, 90; Natalie Lenzner, 68; Dorothy Mod, 80; and Martha Talbot, 77.

Jeffrey Barnard, Dallas County's chief medical examiner, said Monday that he plans to release more names today and provide additional information about his investigation.

"We've got IDs on a fair number, and we're trying to make contact with their family members," he said. "We're trying to be fast but thorough."

The five victims who were identified on Monday all died of smoke inhalation and burns.

A spokeswoman for Sunrise Senior Living, which owns Brighton Gardens in Bellaire, Texas, where all the crash victims were being bused from, declined to confirm whether any of the names matched those they knew to be on the bus or whether they were residents of the home.

The agencies investigating the crash – including the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board – plan to provide more information about their investigations Friday, the Sheriff's Department said.
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#10 Postby GalvestonDuck » Tue Sep 27, 2005 2:11 pm

TexasStooge wrote:Bus operator had financial, driver safety problems

Tour company is in bankruptcy, has numerous violations


And to think, they were actually trying to help.
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#11 Postby TexasStooge » Wed Sep 28, 2005 6:54 am

State warned bus firm in '02

Company facing inquiry in fatal fire on I-45 told inspection records lacking

By STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Texas - The tour company under investigation in last week's fatal bus fire near Dallas was warned by state authorities three years ago that it was violating federal regulations by keeping inadequate records on brake inspections of its vehicles.

Global Limo Inc. did not have evidence of the qualifications of inspectors who worked on its buses on file, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety report released Tuesday after a request by The Dallas Morning News.

The review of Global's operations, described as an "educational contact," did not result in enforcement action.

But the company was told by the DPS in April 2002 to make immediate changes to conform with federal regulations.

A federal investigation into the fiery accident on Interstate 45, which killed 23 elderly evacuees from Hurricane Rita, is focusing on the condition of the bus's braking system.

Several witnesses reported seeing smoke and flames from a rear wheel before a series of explosions erupted that left the bus a burned-out shell.

Global is based in Pharr, Texas. The company's attorney, Mark Cooper of San Antonio, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that he had "no comments to make at this time."

The company is depicted in online regulatory records and court filings as financially troubled and rated near the bottom nationally in driver safety. Since January 2002, DPS troopers have found nine drivers for Global in violation of federal regulations.

Online records of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that drivers for Global also were stopped for inspections that found violations in New Mexico and Missouri between July 2003 and August 2005.

Juan Robles Gutierrez, the driver of the bus that exploded, had been stopped by state troopers three times since February, DPS records show. He received one ticket for speeding in Webb County in August and temporarily was ordered off the road.

Mr. Robles, who has a Mexican driver's license, was questioned by investigators but has not been charged with a crime. He has not spoken publicly and could not be reached for comment.

State and federal regulators have offered few details about Mr. Robles or the bus he was using to transport 38 nursing home patients from Houston to Dallas.

Johnny Ray Partain, a creditor who briefly gained control of Global earlier this year, said Tuesday that he believes the bus that exploded was one he has seen parked in a company lot since May.

The bus appeared about two weeks after James Maples, Global's owner, said "he needed to lease two buses because he didn't have anything reliable enough to go to Walt Disney World," Mr. Partain said. At the time, Mr. Partain said, there were five buses parked on Global's premises that were not in service and three others were off-site being repaired.

The Texas Department of Transportation has said the registration of the bus in question had expired in July and the vehicle should not have been operating.

Mr. Partain said he had seen temporary license tags on the bus and believed that Mr. Maples had purchased a series of temporary tags every few weeks.

Randall Dillard, a spokesman for the transportation department in Austin, said he did could not confirm whether Global had been issued temporary tags.

The only review of Global conducted by state regulators was by the DPS in 2002. Tom Vinger, a DPS spokesman in Austin, said the review was triggered by a complaint but would not elaborate.

DPS records indicated that troopers stopped Global buses in January and March 2002 and issued tickets to the drivers. The citations were for an expired inspection certificate and failure to display a license receipt.

The review of company records found several violations, most pertaining to inadequate record-keeping. The company was criticized for not having required background information on drivers and incomplete driving logs.

The company did have maintenance records on its buses but did not have a full year's worth, as required by law. Mr. Maples told DPS officials that he serviced brakes on site. But he did not have the required paperwork on inspector qualifications, the report said.

While no enforcement action was taken, the DPS report stated that Global had been in business long enough to be familiar with proper operating procedures.

The report stated that Mr. Maples was told "that Global Tours must comply immediately with all requirements of the regulations, especially since their business is hauling passengers."
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#12 Postby TexasStooge » Thu Sep 29, 2005 10:00 am

Bus firm accused of endangering elderly

State received complaints 3 years before fiery accident

By STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Texas - The South Texas tour company whose bus was involved in a fiery accident that killed 23 nursing home patients last week has been accused of endangering elderly passengers before, according to documents obtained Wednesday by The Dallas Morning News.

State officials received a complaint three years ago from an elderly customer alleging hazardous conditions aboard a bus operated by Global Tours, which now operates under the name Global Limo Inc.

Donald Spotts wrote in a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation that a bus used to transport him and 47 other senior citizens from Weslaco to Corpus Christi "was not up to standard roadworthy conditions in any state including Texas."

Mr. Spotts' letter and an unrelated complaint of shoddy maintenance and record-keeping by Global Tours and Charters led the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct an inspection in April 2002 that found several regulatory violations.

Mark Cooper, an attorney for Global, could not be reached for comment.

After its review of the company in 2002, the DPS urged Global to make changes but took no enforcement action.

The company's owner, James Maples, advised the state transportation agency the month after the review that he had implemented the requested changes. Mr. Maples said in a letter to transportation officials that he had hired a compliance supervisor to oversee his bus operations.

On Friday, a Global bus ferrying 38 elderly evacuees of Hurricane Rita from Houston to Dallas burst into flames on Interstate 45 near Wilmer. Smoke and flames were seen coming from a rear wheel that had been changed about an hour earlier.

Some passengers were rescued, but others – some in wheelchairs – perished after a series of explosions reduced the bus to a scorched shell.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is focusing on the bus's braking system.

Lawsuit filed

On Wednesday, the estate of an elderly woman who died in the accident filed a lawsuit in Hidalgo County alleging the death was caused by the negligence of the nursing home, the bus company broker that hired Global and the bus driver.

Ronald Bair, the Houston attorney who filed the suit, said his preliminary investigation makes it clear that the death of his client, Mary Gillette, was preventable.

"This is just about as much as you can get in terms of someone simply trying to cash in on the evacuation problem. That's literally what you've got," he said.

While the circumstances surrounding Mr. Spotts' complaint about Global did not result in a loss of life, they do have ominous similarities to last week's tragedy.

The DPS released Mr. Spotts' letter, along with two other complaints lodged against Global about the same time, after a request from The News.

Mr. Spotts could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The resident of a Weslaco trailer park, then 69, said in his 2002 letter that he and other elderly neighbors had contracted with Global to take them on a tour of Corpus Christi. A noxious smell permeated the bus throughout the trip, he wrote.

"The diesel smell was unhealthy, pungent, overpouring and many of the passengers were coughing both on the journey up and back," he wrote.

After the first leg of the trip, Mr. Spotts wrote, four passengers decided to take alternate transportation rather than get back on the Global bus.

Mr. Spotts suggested that neither the company nor state officials were performing their obligations under the law, and he demanded enforcement action.

"If we are in any way in harm's way because of medical concerns now and later, all responsible parties need to be reprimanded," he wrote.

Vehicle problems alleged

Mr. Spotts' letter was undated but stamped as received by the transportation department Feb. 26, 2002. An unrelated complaint about Global was made to the DPS on Feb. 20, 2002, from a woman identified only as Sara Martinez.

Her letter depicted a company in sharp deterioration. Buses leaked oil and air, she wrote, and only two vehicles were in good condition.

Some buses lacked inspection stickers, and some drivers were working without valid licenses, she said.

"In short, the whole outfit needs a good going over," Ms. Martinez wrote.

Another complaint was received by DPS on March 25, 2002. The complainant, identified as Ross Gunning, said he had seen a Global bus "swerving all over the road."

Both the bus mentioned by Mr. Gunning and a second vehicle listed by Mr. Spotts remain in Global's inventory, according to online records of the state Transportation Department. It is not known whether either bus is still being operated.

Johnny Partain, a McAllen businessman who has been battling Mr. Maples over a debt for most of the last decade, said he believes that most of Global's buses are not running or are undergoing repairs.

The bus that burst into flames south of Dallas was leased from a company in Maryland, an employee of the company told the McAllen Monitor last week.

Mr. Partain said he thinks the bus is one he has seen on Global's lot since May. He said the bus carried the name Century McMynn Leasing on the side. Witnesses at the accident scene said the bus carried the name McMynn Leasing.

Century McMynn, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, leases buses that are used by tour operators across Canada and the United States. The company could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Despite Mr. Maples' assurances to state regulators of compliance, he and eight of his drivers continued to be found in violation of traffic laws and federal motor carrier regulations by police and highway patrol officers in Texas and at least two other states.

Failed inspections

Five times between July 2003 and August 2005, records show, inspections of Global drivers resulted in drivers or vehicles being temporarily ordered off the road.

Mr. Maples filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2005 to prevent a creditor from assuming control of the company.

The bus that Mr. Maples used to transport the Houston-area nursing home residents had been without a valid state registration since July, the state transportation agency said.
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#13 Postby TexasStooge » Fri Sep 30, 2005 7:11 am

Report reveals answers, questions in bus explosion

By BRAD WATSON / WFAA ABC 8

HOUSTON, Texas - Two lawsuits were filed Thursday in connection with last week's bus fire and explosion that killed 23 Hurricane Rita evacuees.

The first lawsuit was brought by a team of Texas lawyers that claim Pharr's Global Limo, the operator of the bus, failed to make sure the bus was properly maintained.

The family of 84-year-old Gloria Putney, who survived, filed the second lawsuit on her behalf. She suffered respiratory injuries and is currently in intensive care at Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Her suit names the Chicago broker that arranged the bus, the nursing home and the driver.

Investigators from the sheriff's department, Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board already have a visual lead where the fire started.

Witnesses on Interstate 45 reported fire coming from where a tire blew out earlier near Corsicana. The driver of the bus and caregivers had changed that tire earlier in the trip.

"The fire began somewhere in the right rear tag axle area, and that's the same tire area that we were looking at initially when the bus caught fire and we arrived at the scene," said Sgt. Don Peritz, Dallas Sheriff's Department.

Investigators are looking at the brake system, but the sheriff's report doesn't conclude at this time what started the fire.

What the sheriff's probe does reveal though, is another instance on how the bus wasn't following state regulations.

The sheriff's review found the bus bore Texas license tags, but was really registered in Oklahoma.

"Well, certainly one of the questions investigators will be asking is why are these tags on this bus if they don't belong to this bus, and why are the correct tags not on this bus?" Peritz said.

The report said a Robert and Joanne McMynn of Ada, Oklahoma own the bus. Their leasing company is based in Canada. They could not be reached for comment.

Investigators said they will try to get comments from the Mexican driver, and finding him will not be a problem.

"The immigration authorities believe he is in the country illegally, and as such have placed him in custody with their hold on him in McAllen for further review," Peritz said.
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#14 Postby TexasStooge » Fri Sep 30, 2005 7:13 am

Evacuee bus had wrong plates

Vehicle registered in Oklahoma; claims examiner sees 'red flag'

By STEVE McGONIGLE and JASON TRAHAN / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Texas - The license plates on a bus in which 23 hurricane evacuees burned to death last week were from another vehicle, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department reported on Thursday.

Rather than being registered to Global Limo Inc. of Pharr, the bus actually was registered in Oklahoma to a bus-leasing company based in Vancouver, Canada.

"Normally, that would send up a red flag," said Paul J. Paterniti, a claims examiner with the Ohio-based Lancer Insurance Co., adding that he did not want to comment on the specifics of this case.

A Sheriff's Department accident report did not give a reason for why the wrong plates were on the bus, but the Texas Department of Transportation has said the bus was not properly registered and should not have been on the road.

Global Limo and the San Antonio attorney representing the company could not be reached for comment.

"They wanted to use that bus, and it wasn't properly registered, and they didn't want to pay to have it properly registered," said Bill Lute, who investigates bus fires for insurance companies.

The Sheriff's Department released its report on the accident without discussing what may have caused the bus to catch fire, killing 23 of the 38 elderly nursing home patients from the Houston area.

The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to investigate, although spokesmen have indicated that the inquiry is focused on the bus's braking system and rear wheels, which caught fire before a series of explosions went off.

Sgt. Don Peritz, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said the focus of the investigation was to try to determine why a rear wheel locked up.

Warning alleged

A Houston woman said Thursday that one of the elderly bus passengers who was rescued told her that the bus driver was warned when he fixed a flat tire before the accident that something was wrong with the brakes.

The fire may have started after a rear tire shredded, causing the wheel to be ground down onto the pavement, producing sparks, sources said.

Oxygen tanks used by the patients on the bus exploded, feeding the fire and hindering rescue efforts.

A Houston attorney who has filed a lawsuit against Global said Thursday that her investigation also showed that the driver was warned of a maintenance problem.

"It had to do with brakes and heat friction resulting in fire," Amanda Hilty said.

Kenneth Brown, owner of K&S Tire Towing & Recovery in Corsicana, said one of his mechanics helped change a tire on the bus two hours before the accident. But he said his employee did not notice any obvious malfunctions or maintenance issues.

One police officer from nearby Rice and a representative of the state transportation agency were present when the tire was repaired, Mr. Brown said. He said nothing his employee did contributed to the accident.

"Bolting a spare on a bus didn't cause the problem," Mr. Brown said. "If the lug nuts are still on that tire, we did our job. Investigators have told me they are."

'Coffin on wheels'

A second Houston attorney who filed a lawsuit for the family of a passenger who survived the accident accused the nursing home and a Chicago bus brokerage that hired Global of taking advantage of a crisis.

Mark Lanier said the bus was unregistered and had been "mothballed" before being hired to take his client and the other patients from Brighton Gardens nursing home in Bellaire to nursing homes in the Dallas area.

"The net result is you basically have a coffin on wheels," Mr. Lanier said Thursday.

Mr. Lanier's lawsuit names The Bus Bank, Sunshine Senior Living and the driver, Juan Robles Gutierrez, as defendants. He did not name Global Limo because companies in bankruptcy cannot be sued without court approval.

The owner of Global, James Maples, filed for federal bankruptcy protection in February to prevent the company from being taken over by a creditor.

Federal and state records also show the company has a driver safety record among the lowest of any bus carrier in the nation. Drivers have been found in violation of federal safety regulations at least 11 times in the last two years.

Driver in custody

Mr. Robles, who was driving on a Mexican driver's license, was taken into custody by federal immigration authorities Tuesday night for being in the country illegally, a spokeswoman for the agency said Thursday.

Nina Pruneda would not say where Mr. Robles, 37, was being held or whether he might be charged with anything other than administrative violations.

"He remains in our custody until further notice," Ms. Pruneda said.

The license plate found on the burned bus belonged on a 1991 Van Hool model bus that the state transportation agency lists as one of the 10 buses that Global has registered. The bus in the accident was a 1998 Motor Coach Industries model.

According to the sheriff's report, the MCI bus is owned by Robert John and Joanne Jacqueline McMynn, who listed an address in Ada, Okla. The plates that belonged on the bus were also from Oklahoma, the report said.

Mr. McMynn, who is president of Century McMynn Leasing, said from his home office in Vancouver on Thursday that he had been advised not to comment.

The bus had seating for 55 passengers. On the day of the accident, it was hauling 38 patients, six staff members from the nursing home and the driver, Mr. Robles.

A source close to the investigation said those passengers who escaped were seated near the front of the bus.

There seemed to be a cluster of bodies near the center in the aisle, and from there back the dead were found in or near their seats.

About half of the people who died had problems moving because of health problems, the source said.

Staff writers Holly Becka, Tanya Eiserer, Michael Grabell and KHOU CBS 11 in Houston contributed to this report.
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#15 Postby Skywatch_NC » Fri Sep 30, 2005 8:56 am

Wouldn't one think that bus company drivers would be informed by personnel about maintenance on the vehicles??

*shakes head*

Eric
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#16 Postby TexasStooge » Fri Sep 30, 2005 10:16 pm

Just when I though the Transit company couldn't sink any lower...
_____________________________________________________________

Faulty bearings cited in bus fire

Passer-by said he flagged driver after seeing wheel glowing

By JASON TRAHAN, HOLLY BECKA and TIM WYATT / The Dallas Morning News

A Texas Department of Public Safety inquiry will conclude that faulty wheel bearings caused last week's bus fire that killed 23 frail nursing home evacuees, sources close to the investigation said Friday.

Experts said that lax maintenance is the primary cause of such fires and that friction caused by unlubricated wheel bearings can cause conditions like those observed by a passer-by early Sept. 23 before the blaze erupted.

A man who was driving behind the bus told investigators he saw sparks flying from the back of the vehicle and then saw that the right rear wheel was glowing red. The man flagged down the driver, who stopped in the left-hand lane on Interstate 45 in Wilmer.

"He walked up and spoke to the driver," Gary Van Etten of the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday. "He didn't know whether he actually understood him or not, and as he was leaving, he saw the bus start to go forward and start to move off to the right-hand side."

The bus burst into flames as the driver pulled the vehicle off to the right side of the highway, investigators said. The skid mark measured about 1,600 feet.

Mr. Van Etten said the bus driver, Juan Robles Gutierrez, who is being detained on immigration charges, never told investigators about the conversation with the passer-by. He also didn't get out of the bus to look at the red-hot glowing wheel, Mr. Van Etten said.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said that after the inquiry is finished, investigators would forward the case to the district attorney's office for review. She didn't give further details.

"If criminal charges are indicated, these files will be forwarded to a grand jury," she said.

'Easy to do'

Bill Lute, a retired Dallas arson investigator who now investigates fires for insurance companies, said a bus company's service department and the bus driver must keep the wheel bearings full of heavy-duty lubrication.

"It's very easy to do, and they're supposed to check them all the time," Mr. Lute said. "If they don't keep them full of grease, the bearings will wear out, and then they'll freeze up and they'll create friction, and then the rollers in the bearings will just disintegrate."

The disintegration of the bearings causes axle problems, which in turn causes the brake shoes to drag against the brake drum.

"This creates a tremendous amount of heat and friction, which overheats to the point where it will set the tires on fire," he said.

Mr. Lute said that tire fires are among the worst to battle because they produce a tremendous amount of heat. Medical oxygen canisters aboard the bus for the elderly patients would have acted like bombs – superheating the fire to about 3,000 degrees, he said.

When an oxygen tank ruptured, "it would be like an explosion," Mr. Lute explained. "It's not actually the oxygen burning; it doesn't burn – it enhances combustion and it'll cause it to act like a blow torch.

"Once the oxygen went off, they had no chance."

Since last week's fatal fire, investigators have focused on the bus's braking system and rear wheels.

A Houston lawyer who has filed a lawsuit against Global said that her investigation showed that the driver was warned of a maintenance problem. "It had to do with brakes and heat friction resulting in fire," Amanda Hilty said.

Kenneth Brown, owner of K&S Tire Towing & Recovery in Corsicana, said one of his mechanics helped change a tire on the bus two hours before the accident. But he said his employee did not notice any obvious malfunctions or maintenance issues.

One police officer from nearby Rice and a representative of the state transportation agency were present when the tire was repaired, Mr. Brown said. He said nothing his employee did contributed to the accident.

"Bolting a spare on a bus didn't cause the problem," Mr. Brown said. "If the lug nuts are still on that tire, we did our job. Investigators have told me they are."

A second Houston lawyer who filed a lawsuit for the family of a passenger who survived the accident accused the nursing home and a Chicago bus brokerage that hired Global of taking advantage of a crisis.

Mark Lanier said the bus was unregistered and had been "mothballed" before being hired to take his client and the other patients from Brighton Gardens nursing home in Bellaire, Texas, to nursing homes in the Dallas area.

"The net result is you basically have a coffin on wheels," Mr. Lanier said. Mr. Lanier's lawsuit names The Bus Bank, Sunshine Senior Living and the driver, Mr. Gutierrez, as defendants.

He did not name Global Limo because companies in bankruptcy cannot be sued without court approval.

The owner of Global, James Maples, filed for federal bankruptcy protection in February to prevent the company from being taken over by a creditor. Mr. Maples and an attorney for Global have declined to comment.

Federal and state records also show the company has a driver safety record among the lowest of any bus carrier in the nation. Drivers have been found in violation of federal safety regulations at least 11 times in the last two years.

Mr. Robles, who was driving on a Mexican driver's license, was taken into custody by federal immigration authorities Tuesday night for being in the country illegally, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Nina Pruneda would not say where Mr. Robles, 37, was being held or whether he might be charged with anything other than administrative violations.

"He remains in our custody until further notice," Ms. Pruneda said.

License plate question

The bus had seating for 55 passengers. On the day of the accident, it was hauling 38 patients, six staff members from the nursing home and the driver, Mr. Robles.

The Dallas County Sheriff's Department has reported that the license plates on the bus were from another vehicle.

Rather than being registered to Global, the bus was registered in Oklahoma to a bus-leasing company based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A Sheriff's Department accident report did not give a reason for why the wrong plates were on the bus, but the Texas Department of Transportation has said the bus was not properly registered and should not have been on the road.

Staff writers Tanya Eiserer and Michael Grabell and KHOU CBS 11 in Houston contributed to this report.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VICTIMS WHO HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED (You don't have to read this segment if you don't want to)

On Friday, a week after the crash, the Dallas County medical examiner's office identified the last of the 23 people who died in Friday's fiery bus accident while they were being evacuated from a Bellaire nursing home because of Hurricane Rita. They are:

Eldon Michael Boudreaux, 89

Mattie Bynum, 100

Ada Dahl, 91

Rose DiPuma, 91

Rebecca Elledge, 80

London England, 86

Annabeth Etie, 92

Adrian Flake, 90

Mary Gillette, 85

Evelyn Greer, 84

Maxey Hathorn, 87

Bessie Kaplan, 92

Natalie Lenzner, 68

Lester Lothman, 86

Gene Macey, 79

Fannie Mills, 94

Dorothy Miller, 79

Dorothy Mod, 80

Ruth Nicely, 88

Louis Stolz, 92

Martha Talbot, 77

Robert Terry, 74

Portia Waddell, 92
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#17 Postby TexasStooge » Sun Oct 02, 2005 2:37 pm

Do you think that this is gonna be one of those "Wilmer-Hutchins ISD" type of investigations?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How escape from Rita turned into deathtrap

Eyewitness accounts retrace what happened before bus fire killed 23

By MICHAEL GRABELL and TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, Texas - Inside the bus, thick black smoke seemed to rise up from the back of the cabin like a storm surge, swallowing feeble patients from the suburban Houston nursing home.

After 15 hours on the road away from Hurricane Rita, some passengers raced as best they could on weak legs as rescuers carried, hugged and threw others over their shoulders to get them off.

Half the 45 people on board made it. Twenty-three did not.

A week after the worst Texas bus accident in 50 years turned the chartered motor coach into a funeral pyre, some survivors, passers-by, police and firefighters are still grappling with what happened on the fateful drive from the Brighton Gardens nursing home.

They started Thursday afternoon, Sept. 22, as Rita reeled like a circular saw toward the coast.

With dire warnings of the hurricane and memories of the ghastly drownings some nursing home patients suffered during Hurricane Katrina, local officials had ordered Brighton Gardens evacuated.

The frail patients, many in wheelchairs, waited outside the red-brick nursing home in low-lying Bellaire. Their ages averaged 85.

They were great-grandmothers and war veterans, retired secretaries and shipping executives. Many were born on farms and cattle ranches when Texas became oil country. They had seen a century. And now they had broken hips, breathing problems and Alzheimer's.

It was 3 p.m.

One by one, Bellaire firefighters helped the 37 patients onto the coach bus. Some had to be carried, the use of their limbs lost long ago. Others with dementia may not have even known where they were.

Some required heavy oxygen bottles to be hauled on board. Nursing home staff folded up their wheelchairs and stowed them in compartments underneath.

Billie Barton, 88, was one of the first on board. She liked sitting near the front and found an aisle seat behind the bus driver.

The elderly patients worried about what happened in New Orleans and were relieved to get on the bus and go. The seats looked worn.

In a half-hour, they were on their way.

The bus ride was quiet. Billie sat and sat. She thought about her roommate, Mattie Bynum, who turned 100 in June and was seated in back.

She just wanted to hurry up and get to Dallas. She had a box of food but didn't eat it.

A few rows back, Lillie Spies and Martha Talbot chatted about their old church, St. Patrick's in Houston.

"There's a pretty flower," Lillie said, pointing out geraniums and chrysanthemums out the window.

She tried to sleep but couldn't.

Others read books and glanced at pictures in the morning's newspaper. Many stared blankly at the traffic that turned a gray interstate into a clog of beige, red, silver, black and teal cars and trucks.

Every now and then, nursing home caregivers walked up and down the aisles talking to patients, giving them water and their medications.

The bus driver never really talked much like some bus drivers do.

He stopped at least once, possibly in Bryan, to pick up more oxygen bottles for the patients.

Hours passed in awful traffic. Day turned to night on Interstate 45.

Outside Corsicana in a little railroad town called Rice, the passengers heard a thump, thump, thump.

The bus stopped in a shoulder-less construction zone just short of the Calhoun Street bridge. The bus driver and some staff members got off.

"There's something wrong, someplace," Lillie said, turning to Martha.

Harry Wilson – partially paralyzed from two strokes – borrowed a cellphone and called his daughter, Eileen, in Houston to tell her the bus had a flat tire. He and his good friend Natalie Lenzner were OK.

It was 4:15 a.m.

Outside, a Rice police officer called a mechanic. A worker from K&S Tire Towing & Recovery in Corsicana drove out and changed the tire.

After fixing the flat, the 55-passenger bus continued on its way. It took them the better part of two hours to travel the 30 miles to Wilmer.

From the bus windows, passengers noticed motorists waving frantically, pointing to the back of the bus and trying to get the driver's attention.

The bus was smoking, they yelled.

One man flashed his lights and honked his horn after seeing the wheel rim glowing red and sparking.

The bus driver, Juan Robles Gutierrez, stopped in the roadway, and the man told him about the wheel.

Mr. Robles pulled the bus to the right shoulder.

By then, the right rear tire was an orange fireball against a pitch-black sky. Flames lashed the back of the bus up to the windows. Small fires smoldered in the grass strip dividing the highway and service road.

Mr. Robles came back to the third row near where schoolyard sweethearts, Carlo and Jean Aiello, now in their 80s, were sitting.

He pulled up the bus mat, and his face grew worried.

"Oh my God, the bus is on fire!" he screamed. "Get out! Get out!"

Mr. Robles bear-hugged Billie and carried her out to the grass.

Jean wobbled on her rubbery legs and hollered for Carlo.

Firefighters rescued Harry.

"The fire department pulled me out, literally, like a newborn baby," he would later say.

As Mr. Robles and rescuers carried others over their shoulder, passengers behind them crammed into the aisle in the center of the bus. Many in back remained in their seats, screaming and unable to get up.

The bus heated up like an incinerator, the interior reaching about 1,500 degrees. It reeked of burning rubber. Seating cushions flared, releasing toxic formaldehyde.

Passers-by broke bus windows and threw jugs of water on the flames.

Juanita Palacios, 28, was right behind the bus and smelled the heavy stench of rubber. She stopped and ran barefoot from her car to help the elderly passengers jumping out with smoke trailing from their clothes.

"You are hurting me," one passenger told her.

The heat burning her feet, Ms. Palacios grabbed Harry's hand, which was burned and cut with glass.

He yelled about the oxygen tanks.

Motorists called 911. The first call came in at 6:06 a.m.

"Yes, I'm coming down 45," a man told the dispatcher. "There's a bus on fire with people still in it."

"They haven't gotten – are they trapped in there?" the female dispatcher asked.

"I guess so because the bus is burning up on the right-hand side. The tire blew up, and they're on fire."

Lillie was in the fourth row. At 5-foot-8 ½, she was taller than the smoke and waded through the blackening cloud.

"When I get real excited, I can walk without a wheelchair," she said later.

Two men met her at the door. One grabbed her arms, the other her legs. Her feet dangled, and her toes kept hitting the floorboards.

A sheriff's deputy shined a flashlight through the smoke to guide the helpless passengers out.

Thick black vapors filled Gloria Putney's esophagus. The 84-year-old was in the sixth row and may have been one of the last passengers off the bus.

In the distance, Lillie heard a freight train whistle.

Then she heard the boom.

Outside, Robert Orozco, 31, who had been driving with his family 20 hours from Houston, had been running to the fire and stopped short.

High, brightly colored flames swallowed the bus. The heat doubled to 3,000 degrees. Hunks of metal shot in the air, ricocheting off the white metal fence of the nearby Texas Star Truck Sales yard. Charred chunks of the foam seat cushions blew across the service road.

Fred Witte, 74, was standing outside in his mobile home just off the interstate and felt the heat on his back.

"Car 11 just had a massive explosion!" a sheriff's deputy screamed on his police radio, describing the message he received from another patrol car.

Lying on the grass, Harry thought it looked like a Roman candle. Rescuers rushed to pull him and others farther from the inferno.

"Be advised, we are going to have multiple elderly victims," an out-of-breath deputy radioed somberly. "The bus has exploded. I don't know how many people are left on board."

"Ten-four," the dispatcher said. "And you're requesting mutual aid from Dallas Fire Department?"

"Ten-four," the deputy said. "Give me everybody you can."

With the roads shut down, ambulances from at least four agencies came the wrong way in the northbound lanes of I-45.

Paramedics began shuttling patients on stretchers into ambulances. Firefighters doused the blaze.

Nurses and aid workers traded tearful hugs. They started to second-guess the decision to leave Bellaire.

Patients lay weary on the grass. Billie's chest and back ached from the rescue. Ants crawled up her leg. Many patients cried. Some sat with their backs against a van.

Lillie looked for Martha. Billie looked for Mattie. Harry looked for Natalie.

But none of their friends ever came off.

Across the country in Arizona, Deborah Roesch turned on TV and saw her mother, Jean, dazed and staggering on the side of the road. She didn't see her father, Carlo, and was hysterical, waiting for hours to learn that he survived.

One by one, ambulances left with sirens blaring.

Half-hidden by clouds, a reddish-orange sun began to rise, revealing the carnage left in the bus's blackened skeleton.

Firefighters climbed up on its frame, carefully pulling a blue tarp over the 23 left on board.

Staff writers Jason Trahan, Holly Becka, Tim Wyatt, Tiara Ellis, Donna Logan Wisdom, Angela Shah and Colleen McCain Nelson contributed to this report.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
BEHIND THE STORY:

A team of Dallas Morning News reporters has extensively covered the Wilmer bus fire since it exploded on Sept. 23, killing 23 evacuees fleeing the Houston area as Hurricane Rita advanced. To compile this story, they examined accident reports, listened to 911 tapes, and interviewed dozens of people, including survivors, witnesses, police, firefighters, fire experts and investigators. Nursing home officials and staff members on board the bus either did not return phone calls or declined to comment.
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#18 Postby TexasStooge » Wed Oct 05, 2005 6:54 am

Officer troubled by bus fire response

By GARY REAVES / WFAA ABC 8

DALLAS, Texas - The bus explosion that killed 23 frail nursing home evacuees as they tried to flee the storm on Interstate 45 in Wilmer was one of the horrors of Hurricane Rita.

Almost two weeks after the incident, government investigators are asking if a state law kept help from getting there sooner.

Officer Billy Mitchell headed for the scene as soon as the first 911 calls came in.

"On my arrival of the scene of the bus explosion, I could see the bus was fully involved in the fire in the rear of the bus," he said.

He was at the scene just in time to see the explosions that engulfed the bus completely. However, he said he's still troubled by how long it took Wilmer firefighters to arrive.

"I'm going to say at least 20 minutes," Mitchell said he estimated the time it took for them to get to the bus.

And he is not the only one guessing that time. Several sources told News 8 it took about 20 minutes because Wilmer paramedics were required by state law to wait for volunteer firemen to arrive and then were sent to the wrong location.

But Wilmer Fire Chief Marcus Smith claimed his crew didn't wait and arrived within 10 minutes. He released a time line that showed the first call came in at 6:08 and Wilmer Fire Engine 1 arrived at 6:18, which was the same time Hutchins firefighters arrived.

But the dispatcher in Hutchins told News 8 her crew didn't arrive until 6:27, 19 minutes after the initial 911 call.

"I don't want to say it is [adequate] because I don't think it is," Mitchell said of the arrival time of the firefighters.

However, most who were at the scene agreed that even a five minute response time would have been too late to save the 23 people doomed in the bus.

Chief Smith said he's gotten conflicting information, and he has struggled to get it to all add up.

However, it's federal investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board in charge of the investigation that will make the final call. The report on the condition of the bus from the state is expected to come very soon and sources said it is also expected to be scathing.
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#19 Postby TexasStooge » Fri Oct 07, 2005 7:01 am

Recall preceded bus fire

Brake flaw cited, but evacuees' vehicle wasn't among those covered

By STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News

Concerns over possible brake failures had prompted the manufacturer of a bus that burned last month, killing 23 elderly hurricane evacuees, to recall the same make and model years earlier, federal records show.

Motor Coach Industries notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in March 1998 that it was recalling the first 220 of its new line of Renaissance buses because of loose bolts that held brakes to all six wheels.

"If the Field Change Program is NOT performed," Motor Coach Industries told customers in a form letter announcing the recall, "conditions will develop that can cause loss of vehicle control, property damage and personal injury."

Paul Murphy, the Motor Coach representative who notified federal authorities, said in an e-mail message Thursday that the 1998 Renaissance bus involved in the fiery Sept. 23 accident in Wilmer, near Dallas, was not among those covered by the recall.

Mr. Murphy did not respond to additional questions about the bus in the accident. But in his 1998 letter to the highway safety agency, he said that Renaissance buses built after the 220 involved in the recall "were corrected at the factory."

It is unclear when the bus that burst into flames was built after the recall. Mr. Murphy did say the bus bore a higher unit number than those listed by the manufacturer in the recall.

Authorities investigating the accident that burned the bus operated by Global Limo Inc. of Pharr – and the senior citizens inside, who were fleeing Hurricane Rita – have cited overheating from faulty brakes and worn wheel bearings as the reasons a rear tire caught fire and triggered a series of explosions.

They blamed the problems on poor maintenance by the bus operator.

Don Peritz, a spokesman for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, said Thursday that he was unaware of the 1998 recall of MCI Renaissance buses.

While the Global bus may not have been part of the recall, Sgt. Peritz said, "That information is of interest to us, and I will pass it on to the investigative team."

Neither the lead investigator nor a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board could be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Investigators have said the bus that burned was owned by a Canadian company that leased it to a Maryland tour operator, who subleased the vehicle to Global. They have not released any records pertaining to the bus's maintenance.

The owners of the three bus companies previously have declined to comment or have not responded to phone messages.

Century McMynn Leasing of Vancouver, identified by investigators as the owner of the burned bus, has been accused of poor maintenance in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal accident in Canada five years ago. That bus was not built by Motor Coach Industries. McMynn has denied any fault.

The buses involved in the recall were built at a Motor Coach factory in Pembina, N.D. The company, which has its headquarters in suburban Chicago, began business in 1933 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, according to the company's Web site.

Motor Coach described itself on the site as "North America's leading manufacturer of inter-city coaches serving charter and tour operators."

The 1998 recall was one of several the company has reported to the highway safety agency in the last decade, records show. Other recalls have ranged in size from a single MCI bus to more than 3,000 of one particular model.

The Renaissance, also known as an E Class, is a 55-seat deluxe bus. It has three axles, each of which is connected to the wheels with metal plates that also bolt into the brake assembly.

"If not at proper torque, loose or missing, the loss of the bolts can allow the brake caliper to come in contact with the (wheel) rim and affect braking performance," says a summary sheet on the recall prepared by the highway safety agency.

Motor Coach told federal safety officials that it first noticed in February 1998 that six mounting bolts for the brake calipers were missing or loose on one bus's axle. An inspection of 59 buses found nine others with similar problems, the company said.

The discovery led the company to stop delivery of Renaissance buses and to notify federal authorities that it was initiating a recall to repair buses that had been sold.

The extent of customer compliance could not be determined from documents posted on the NHTSA Web site. Federal regulations require companies to file quarterly compliance reports with the NHTSA after a recall.

Joan Claybrook, a former administrator for the highway safety agency who is now president of Public Citizen, a pro-consumer group, said that most defects occur in the first year of production and that it was not unusual for companies to recall only a portion of all vehicles built.

Nonetheless, she said, the condition of the vehicles of the same model that were not recalled would be a concern.

"It's important to know it and understand it," she said.
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#20 Postby TexasStooge » Fri Oct 07, 2005 10:07 pm

Owners of bus that exploded ordered out of business

By STEVE McGONIGLE and MICHAEL GRABELL / The Dallas Morning News

HOUSTON, Texas - The South Texas company that operated the bus involved in last month's fatal bus fire near Dallas was ordered to cease operations Friday after federal regulators determined the company posed "an imminent hazard to the safety of the motoring public."

Global Limo Inc. of Pharr was told to stop dispatching its buses after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration completed a safety inspection, a news release said.

The agency said the enforcement action was necessary because "the condition of the vehicles, drivers and commercial motor vehicle operations are likely to result in serious injury or death if not discontinued immediately."

Global has been under investigation since a chartered bus it was operating burned in Wilmer on Sept. 23, killing 23 elderly nursing home patients who were being transferred from Houston to Dallas to escape Hurricane Rita.

Robert Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, said investigators found 168 violations related to Global's four-bus fleet.

"We found violations of worn windshield wipers and sheared lug nuts, leaking oil, air leaks in the hydraulic system, inadequate escape window markings, missing emergency door markings, inoperable lamps, brakes out of adjustment, tire treads less than the required limit," he said. "It was not a fleet that was in very good condition."

Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin, said his agency was informed of the federal action Friday afternoon, but it was not immediately clear what role troopers would play in the unfolding inquiry. DPS has about 500 troopers trained to inspect commercial vehicles, including passenger buses.

Mr. Vinger said that if troopers catch the carrier operating on the road, "the bus would be taken out of service," he said. "Then they would be subject to the penalties."

Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, declined to comment.

Bill Lute, a retired Dallas arson investigator who now investigates fires for insurance companies, said the Department of Transportation's decision is extreme.

"I've been doing this for 40 years, and I've never heard of this," Mr. Lute said. "Bus companies have been fined and made to comply (with standards), but I've never heard of them shutting down a company. It says there's something wrong with more than one bus. It indicates the whole fleet of buses could be bad."

He mentioned a June 2002 bus crash near Terrell that killed the driver and four children did not prompt a shutdown of bus company, despite its hiring of a driver who had a long list of offenses.

Authorities investigating the accident have cited overheating from faulty brakes and worn wheel bearings as the reasons a rear tire caught fire and triggered a series of explosions.

An inspection report released by the DPS earlier this week said the bus had faulty brakes and would have been ordered off the road had it been stopped before the accident.

Federal and state safety records showed Global had one of the lowest driver safety ratings of any company in the nation. Its drivers had been stopped at least a dozen times over the past two years and ticketed for speeding, lack of proper licenses or registration and failing to keep proper logs of their work hours.

The bus driver, Juan Robles Gutierrez, had a commercial Mexican license, but state law says they are invalid after the holder has spent more than 30 days in Texas.

He is in federal detention on charges of being in the country illegally.

Staff Writers Jason Trahan and Holly Yan contributed to this report.
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