California Bus Company in Fatal Crash Shut Down by U.S.

The U.S. Transportation Department shut down a California bus company five days after a crash that killed eight people on a mountain highway, saying the firm wasn’t maintaining or inspecting its vehicles properly.

Scapadas Magicas LLC was declared an imminent hazard to public safety yesterday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. One of the National City, California-based company’s three buses crashed into a car and a pickup truck on Feb. 3. Seven bus passengers died, as did the truck driver. More than 40 were injured, according to the government’s order.

“We will not tolerate unsafe bus companies on our nation’s roads,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “We will not allow safety to be compromised.”

The bus involved in the crash near Yucaipa, California, was ordered off the road twice last year because of defective brakes. The company was cleared by U.S. regulators on Jan. 9 to operate without restrictions. The bus was en route to Tijuana, Mexico, after a day trip to the San Bernardino National Forest.

The bus had been taken out of service after roadside inspections on May 25 and July 11, according to the FMCSA’s website. The bus’s wheel fasteners were loose or missing on May 25. It had a damaged windshield on the July stop and again on Oct. 16. During the three inspections, police found a total of 17 safety violations, the records show.

The driver reported before the crash that the brakes had failed and passengers said they saw smoke coming from under the bus, according to the order.

Investigators’ Findings

A post-crash investigation by regulators found the company’s two other U.S. motorcoaches had serious mechanical safety violations, and those buses were immediately taken out of service, the Transportation Department said yesterday.

Investigators also found that the company had failed to ensure that its vehicles were systematically inspected, repaired and maintained, and that its drivers were properly qualified and licensed, contrary to information provided by company officials in January, according to yesterday’s statement.

Companies with multiple, known safety violations haven’t been shut down until after a fatal crash, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said at a meeting with reporters in Washington Feb. 6. She cited repeated incidents involving bad maintenance and fatigued drivers.

“Is it the cost of business for these companies to get put out of service?” said Hersman, whose board investigates accidents and makes recommendations for safety improvements. “We’ve got to have regulations with teeth, and the penalties have to be a deterrent.”

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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