Bus wreck: Carrier failed four of five inspections
It's a risk nearly all parents take when they send their children off to school, but on the morning of Friday May 29, risk became unhappy reality for the entire fifth grade of Baker-Butler Elementary School, as they became the second group of area school kids ensnarled in an injury-causing accident. In this case, the bus company involved has seen one of its vehicles, a motorcoach, fail its last three federal inspections and get pulled from service. Could this trip-spoiling incident have been prevented?
Police charged the driver of one of the buses, Samuel Hilton Richard, with following too closely. Richard, 62, a 37-year industry veteran, tells a reporter he's not at liberty to discuss the accident.
However, another industry player, Dan Goff of A. Goff Limo, calls the bus company involved, Lynchburg Bus Service Inc., the "low-cost carrier for this area." And SAFER, a website run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, notes that 75 percent of Lynchburg Bus's vehicles have been pulled service for safety deficiencies, a rate that is over three times the national average of 23 percent.
Duane DeBruyne, spokesperson for the Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation, declined to characterize any company, but he explains, "Out of service means there's an immediate hazard to safety, so that bus is not moving until that gets repaired."
According to online Administration records, Lynchburg Bus Service failed four of its last five inspections. In particular, one of its motorcoaches, vehicle number 1TUFCH6AXHR005939, was cited on multiple occasions for faulty steering and brake systems, with its most recent inspection, last August, noting "inadequate brakes for safe stopping."
Currently, there is no evidence that maintenance issues led to the accident, but Goff believes that Lynchburg Bus may not have its own maintenance garage. "Bus garages matter," says Goff. "Without the garage, it's something you wouldn't want to put your schoolkids in."
A person answering the phone at Lynchburg Bus said that, under advice from an insurer, the company would not speak to the press. Driver Richard, reached at home, said he's had "no problems" with the company or its buses in the eight years he's worked for Lynchburg Bus.
As to why Baker-Butler chose Lynchburg Bus for what Schools spokesperson Maury Brown calls the "culminating trip" for its fifth graders to the Smithsonian Institution and other attractions, Brown referred the question to Principal Dave Cushman, who then directed all questions back to Brown, who says she doesn't have the information.
Ultimately, Goff notes, there are risks for all companies in the transportation field, and a lot of it just comes down to luck. "We know both companies– good people, hard workers," says Goff.
As for the bus company involved in the I-66 accident, Quick-Livick, Inc., known as Quick's, was founded in 1946 and hasn't been involved in an injurious accident for "over 40 years," says company president Robbie Quick, calling the incident "one of those things."
"We do all the training, all the safety seminars, and all that stuff, and you preach and you preach," says Quick, who, while he attributes the May 22 accident to driver error, notes that passengers have sent emails and letters stating that the driver was cut off by another vehicle on busy I-66 on first day of the Memorial Day weekend. "We do the best we can just like everybody else," Quick says.
–updated 2:14pm, Tuesday, June 2