Inspection Records Sealed in Deadly Iowa School Bus Fire
The last three years’ worth of inspection records of a school bus that crashed and caught firing, killing two, have been sealed by the state of Iowa.
Three years’ worth of inspection records for a school bus that caught fire earlier this month, killing two, have been sealed by the state of Iowa as it conducts an investigation.
The bus fire claimed the lives of 74-year-old driver Donald Hendricks and 16-year-old student passenger Megan Klindt. Hendricks was backing out of Klindt’s driveway and ended up in a ditch across the street where the bus caught fire.
A sheriff’s deputy arrived 15 minutes after receiving a 911 call but was unable to get inside of the bus due to the intense flames. The two died from smoke and soot inhalation and thermal injuries. Their deaths have been ruled an accident.
The Des Moines Register says it requested the last three years of the state’s twice-yearly inspections on December 12, the day of the fatal fire, but was denied.
The Register was able to obtain records for the vehicle from before December 2014. Those records showed the bus had mechanical violations including a malfunctioning roof vent hatch warning signal and sharp edges or protrusions on its body.
School bus inspection data is typically part of school bus records that are routinely made public, but because the most recent data is part of a federal investigation that could take more than a year to complete, the Iowa Department of Education says the data can be withheld until then.
A December 14 letter, written on behalf of the department by Matt McKenzie, an attorney for the National Transportation Safety Board, said releasing the information “would compromise an ongoing investigation.”
Iowa Schools Have History of Ignoring Inspection Findings
Investigations conducted by the Register in 2012 and 2014 both showed a history of Iowa schools ignoring inspection findings or falsely certifying with the state that mechanical problems had been fixed.
The 2012 investigation looked at five years’ worth of data ending in June 2012 and found at least 99 school buses in 67 Iowa school districts had consecutive inspections that cited the same problem.
During that investigation, no school officials acknowledged someone had intentionally falsified state records to indicate a problem had been fixed.
In November 2012, former Colfax-Mingo transportation director Dennis Gibson was arrested on five counts of felonious misconduct. Four counts were dropped but Gibson was convicted of the remaining charge and was sentenced to two years of probation and had to pay a $750 fine.
In the 2014 investigation, each official who spoke with the Register said it was happenstance that the same problems consecutively appeared on the same buses.
In March 2014, former Galva-Holstein transportation direction Douglas Anthony Wessling pleaded guilty to tampering with records involving a broken bus window that was not fixed and restricted driver vision. He also received two years’ probation and paid a $1,000 fine.