Company in Fatal Bus Crash Got Numerous Safety Citations

The bus operator involved in a wreck that killed at least eight people in Southern California yesterday was cited for three dozen safety violations over the past year, federal records show.

The company, Scapadas Magicas LLC of National City, California, scored worse than three-fourths of U.S. bus companies in terms of maintenance, according to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters in Washington today he has asked for a briefing from FMCSA head Anne Ferro.

“We’ve taken a lot of fly-by-night bus companies off the road,” LaHood said. “There’s always more to do when it comes to safety. We can do more.”

The tour bus was returning to Tijuana, Mexico, from a skiing day trip when it struck a car and a pickup truck at about 6:30 p.m., according to the Associated Press. Eight people were confirmed dead, while others may be discovered at the chaotic crash scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators and experts in motor-carrier operations to the crash site, near San Bernardino, California, the agency said in an e-mail today.

Past Citations

The company’s citations over the past year include violations found in roadside inspections that were considered serious enough to order buses off the road. These included brakes out of adjustment; defective or missing axle parts; and loose or missing wheel fasteners, according to the Transportation Department agency. A call to the bus company’s office seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned.

FMCSA completed its most recent comprehensive compliance review on Scapadas Magicas on Jan. 9. It issued a “satisfactory” rating, meaning the carrier was free to operate in the U.S. without restriction.

Cracking down on unsafe bus operators made it onto the latest NTSB “most-wanted list” of improvements.

The board last year wrapped up investigations of deadly East Coast wrecks involving so-called Chinatown bus lines. It has put renewed focus on poorly trained drivers, inattentive management and the FMCSA’s inability to close companies with known safety deficiencies.

Oregon Crash

Nine passengers were killed and 39 others injured in a Dec. 30 bus crash in eastern Oregon involving a Canadian company, Mi Joo Tour & Travel. The driver in that crash had driven 92 hours over a seven-day period, according to the Transportation Department. Federal regulations cap driving time at 70 hours per week.

The Transportation Department declared two of the Coquitlam, British Columbia-based company’s drivers “imminent hazards to public safety” and banned them from operating a bus or truck in the U.S.

The California crash was the second serious bus accident over the weekend. A charter bus carrying high school students from Pennsylvania on a visit to Harvard University struck a bridge in Boston, injuring more than 30 people, with some trapped inside the wrecked vehicle for hours, according to police.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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