A bus explosion that killed 23 nursing home patients fleeing Hurricane Rita was partly due to flawed government oversight of bus companies, federal regulators concluded Wednesday.
A rear wheel of the bus caught fire in the early morning of Sept. 23, 2005, on a freeway near Dallas. Within minutes the vehicle was engulfed in flames and smoke.
While the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that lack of oil in a wheel assembly probably caused the fire, the board said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was responsible as well because it has done a poor job making sure bus companies are safe.
The safety board also blamed the bus company, Global Limo Inc., because it didn’t conduct required preventive maintenance, require drivers to inspect the vehicles or keep inspection records.
Investigators said daily inspections, recommended by the bus manufacturer, would have revealed the lack of lubricant. The driver didn’t inspect the bus, investigators said.
$11 million settlement
Saying the bus company, Global Limo Inc., was a hazard to the public, federal regulators shut it down weeks after the accident. Global Limo’s owner James Maples was convicted of maintenance and inspection charges in October.
Victims and relatives of victims reached an $11 million settlement in May with Global Limo and BusBank, the travel broker that hired it.
The fire probably caused the patients’ oxygen canisters to explode, making it even harder to evacuate them from the bus, investigators said.
Since the accident, the Department of Transportation has issued new guidelines for carrying medical oxygen, recommending that tanks be secured in an upright position and limited to one canister per patient in the passenger compartment.