Texas bus company in crash has faced vehicle problems before

LAREDO, Texas (AP) — The small South Texas bus company involved in a rollover crash that killed eight people and injured 44 others had twice been ordered by Louisiana state inspectors in 2015 to take one of its buses off the road to fix brake and emergency exit problems.

Records posted online by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that regulators ordered OGA Charters to sideline the bus in May 2015 because of brake problems and again in August of last year when they were getting worse.

It was not immediately clear Sunday if that was same charter bus that crashed Saturday about 46 miles north of Laredo, Texas, or what steps the company took to fix the problems with its sidelined bus between inspections.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived Sunday in Laredo to try to determine a cause of the crash, something that spokesman Keith Holloway said can take months.

Investigators examined the bus and the scene Sunday, Holloway said. The agency will look at the operations of the company as part of its investigation and has requested inspection and maintenance records, he said.

According to federal online records, OGA Charters has two buses and the Motor Carrier Safety Administration had it listed with a “satisfactory” rating in May 2014.

Records noted that the company had reported no crashes in the last two years prior to Saturday. But six driver and vehicle inspections since 2014 found 15 total violations, ranging from driver records and hours they were on the road, to vehicle maintenance problems.

The May 2015 inspection in Louisiana reported brake connections with leaks, problems with the automatic brake adjustment system and a discolored windshield. The bus was put out of service because 20 percent or more of its brakes were defective.

The records don’t name the Louisiana community where the inspection occurred.

Another Louisiana inspection just four months later found “general” brake problems, citing some of the same problems, and the emergency exit issue. Details of the emergency exit problem were not immediately available. The report also noted the discolored windshield problem and again ordered the bus out of service.

That the same bus, whether it was the one involved in the deadly crash or not, continued to have brake problems a few months after its initial inspection is a concern, said Shaun Kildare, director of research for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based group that tracks bus crashes and federal highway safety regulations.

“We know this carrier had the vehicle violation problems,” Kildare said. “They apparently didn’t do anything. … When they have vehicle problems they don’t fix, that’s a question.”

The rate of violations for hours of service was marked as a problem area by federal regulators.

Officials at OGA Charters, based in San Juan, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

Seven people died at the scene of Saturday’s crash and another died at a hospital, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

Webb County Medical Examiner Corrine Stern on Sunday identified those who died as Altagracia Torres, Maria de Jesus Musquiz, Dora Nelly Gonzalez, Frances Guerrero, Marisela Lopez, Adelfa Garza, Jaime Navarro, and Emma Rodriguez Zamudio.

She did not immediately release ages or hometowns. The Laredo Morning Times reported the victims who died ranged in age from 52 to 81.

DPS Sgt. Johnny Hernandez said the driver, whose name was not released, remained hospitalized Sunday with “major injuries” and had not been interviewed by state investigators. DPS is conducting an investigation separate from the federal probe into the cause of the crash.

Hernandez said DPS investigators don’t know yet if the bus that crashed was the same one cited last year by safety inspectors.

State police have said it was raining Saturday morning but it was uncertain if that was a factor in the crash that occurred just before 11:30 a.m.

Webb County Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ricardo Rangel told the Laredo Morning Times the bus was heading to a casino in Eagle Pass, about 125 miles northwest of Laredo.

The injured were taken to hospitals in Laredo, Carrizo Springs and San Antonio.

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