Image: Cross
Matt Slocum  /  AP
A single cross marks the scene of a bus that caught fire and burned on Interstate 45, killing 23 people, Sept. 23 in Wilmer, Texas. The bus was carrying elderly Hurricane Rita evacuees from the Houston area.
updated 9/30/2005 9:07:11 PM ET 2005-10-01T01:07:11

Federal and state officials said Friday they had no way of knowing the severity of financial and mechanical problems at the company that operated a bus that caught fire last week near Dallas, killing 23 nursing home evacuees.

Customers and others familiar with Global Limo Inc. had complained that its buses smelled of fuel and had dangerously poor brakes. The owner filed for bankruptcy in February.

When federal emergency officials were looking for buses to ferry Houston residents away from Hurricane Rita, they contacted a bus broker, who hired Global.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration keeps a database of bus companies but does not have a “do not call” list, officials said. Federal regulators gave Global a satisfactory rating in 2004, they added.

State trooper Monty Dial said the fire has prompted a review to see how agencies could be better informed about troubled operators.

State police found several problems in a 2002 review of Global, including no evidence that qualified people were conducting brake inspections, but authorities took no action against the company.

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies said Friday that their investigation continued to focus on brakes and wheels in the right rear of the bus, where the fire apparently started.

Bus appeared to have flat tire
Gary Van Etten of the safety board said a flat tire removed from the bus before the fire had a hole that might indicate it wasn’t spinning freely along the road.

Van Etten said a witness who came forward Thursday said he pulled the bus over after seeing a red glow from the wheel area.

“He flashed his lights, honked his horn, was actually able to stop the bus in the left-hand lane,” Van Etten said. The motorist said he told the driver, Juan Robles Gutierrez, what he had seen but was unsure whether Robles understood him. Robles did not mention the encounter when investigators interviewed him, Van Etten said.

Robles pulled the bus off the right-hand side of the highway, and it caught fire a “pretty short period of time” later, Van Etten said. The flames were evidently spread by the contents of 18 oxygen tanks on board for the nursing home patients.

The 1998 bus that burned Sept. 23 on Interstate 45 was owned by Robert and Joanne McMynn, who run a leasing company in Vancouver, Canada, but the tags came from a 1991 bus registered by Global.

A man who answered the phone at Global’s offices in Pharr said the company had no comment, and he referred callers to Global’s attorney, who did not return a call.

The McMynns leased the doomed bus to a company in Maryland, which sublet it to Global, according to the NTSB.

Contacted in Vancouver, Joanne McMynn declined to discuss the case. People who switch vehicle plates can get a traffic ticket, but it is not a criminal offense, police said.

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