Federal regulators Thursday declared a San Antonio charter bus company an "imminent hazard" to public safety because of its affiliation with a Houston motorcoach operator involved in a deadly Aug. 8 crash.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered Liberty Charters & Tours to stop using vehicles or drivers connected to Angel de la Torre or two of his companies, Iguala BusMex Inc. and Angel Tours Inc.
The bus that crashed was owned by Iguala BusMex, a company formed by de la Torre after Angel Tours was ordered out of service for vehicle and driver irregularities. Seventeen of the 55 passengers — members of a Vietnamese Catholic group on a pilgrimage to Missouri — died after the bus blew a front tire blew and flipped on its side near Sherman.
Investigators said the retreaded tire violated federal safety standards, which forbid recapped tires to be used on a steering axle.
The FMCSA order against Liberty Charters came a day after The Associated Press reported that the company leased a bus from Angel Tours after it lost its ability to operate.
'Deficient maintenance procedures'
Jose Hidalgo, the owner of Liberty Charters, could not be reached Thursday. In an interview with the AP on Monday, he said he and de la Torre frequently lease buses from each other — a practice that is legal, even when the owner of the leased bus has been forced out of service.
"Sometimes Angel uses my buses and sometimes I use his," Hidalgo said.
The FMCSA order contends that the "egregiously deficient maintenance procedures" of de la Torre's companies place drivers and passengers "at continued and substantially increased risk of serious injury or death."
FMCSA administrator John W. Hill said the action against Liberty Charters stems from the agency's effort to conduct a full investigation of de la Torre.
"We are thoroughly reviewing all relevant records and statements and will not stop until we get to the bottom of this rogue operation," Hill was quoted in a news release.
The AP was unable to leave a message for de la Torre Thursday because his answering machine was full.
The FMCSA issued an "imminent hazard" order against Iguala BusMex and Angel Tours a day after the crash. The FMCSA also has requested that law enforcement agencies be on the lookout for any buses operated by those companies.