Tires on crashed bus came from scrap bin, documents burned

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 12:25 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 12 at 12:05 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Five months after 34 people were injured in the crash of a chartered Commonwealth Bus Service school bus in Louisville, a U.S. Department of Transportation Compliance Review reveals the front tires were placed on the bus after being retrieved from an auto shop's recycling bin.

A Louisville Metro Police accident investigation cites a blown left front tire as the cause of the crash on I-64 at the Shelby County line.

In interviews with federal investigators, the bus owner admits the bus had not had required annual inspections in "a few years."

WHAS11 obtained the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration documents through an open records request.

Apprised by WHAS11 of bus owner Michael Goad's statements to the USDOT, Jefferson County Public Schools disclosed Friday "we are temporarily ceasing operations with Commonwealth and are reviewing the matter."

Commonwealth Bus Service and Transportation, Inc. has declined WHAS11's numerous requests for interviews or statements.

JCPS has also instituted a new requirement for all contracted charter bus companies to provide updated monthly and annual inspection reports to be kept on file at the school district rather than at each company's offices.

All 29 high school students and five adults on board were injured on June 11 when the tire blew and bus driver Veloris Tobin lost control, sending the bus from the far right lane across three lanes of traffic into the concrete interstate divider.

The crash was captured by a camera installed on Lynn Wehling's semi tractor-trailer.

"I would like to know what the company said about it," said Angel Hahn, 15, of Martin, TN.  "It could have cost me my life."
 
Hahn and her mother are friends with a Waggener High School student and her family.

Flung across several rows of seats in the crash, Hahn suffered a broken back, ankle and sternum, a shattered elbow and a head injury.
 
"I'm still recovering," Hahn said.  "It's a little hard. I have a lot of trouble focusing with my head injury.  And I have a lot of pain."

The safety of the bus trip was only as secure as the bus tires.

In a US Department of Transportation compliance review obtained by WHAS11 News, the bus owner - Michael Goad - told investigators he "'got' these tires from a friend who happens to have some spare tires this size."

Goad's friend - whose name is redacted from the federal report - told investigators he salvaged the tires from a scrap tire bin at Tony's Brake and Alignment on Poplar Level Road.

According to a summary of the USDOT interview with an employee at Tony's Brake and Alignment, "no one at the business could remember letting anyone get tires from the scrap tire bin."

Tony's owner told WHAS11 by phone the business does not sell used tires and it did not condone or authorize any such action.
 
The unnamed friend's admission is spelled out in the USDOT documents:
 
"The tires were in the scrap tire bin that were going to be taken by a tire recycler."
 
Instead of with a recycler, the 11 year old tires ended up on Bus 450.
 
The Louisville Metro Police crash investigation includes a post-crash inspection by veteran forensic mechanic Scott Burrows of Trimble County.  Though his report concludes the tires appeared to have sufficient tread life and did not show signs of uneven wear, Burrows expressed concerns about the age of the tires and suggested experts in tire failure take a closer look.
 
An analysis of the blown tire by Goodyear Innovation Center inspectors cited evidence which indicates the "tire was used for some time prior to being mounted on this vehicle" and showed signs of "over-deflected operation" a result of "under-inflation, overloading or a combination of both."
 
Goodyear explained over-deflection causes "irreversible damage" to the tire and can affect handling.
 
"It's a ticking time bomb," said William F. McMurry, an attorney representing six of the crash victims. "It is going to blow, it is just a question of when."

McMurry also suspects something was wrong with the bus suspension.

Goad disclosed to federal investigators that Bus 450 had been in an accident in December, 2012 which resulted in substantial repairs to the front of the bus, including the suspension.
 
But there is no sign of any inspection before Bus 450 returned to the road.
 
Investigators say the bus owner, Michael Goad, told them:
 
"he did not have any documents for any of the work that has been conducted due to the 90+ year old man that lives with him burning all the maintenance records to stay warm."
 
"How do you... what? How do you burn records," said Cynthia Runions, Hahn's mother.  "Your business records?  That doesn't make any sense."

Bus 450 is being stored as evidence in the Louisville Mega-Cavern..
 
Goad's other bus - 451 - was ruled out of service eight days after the crash when inspectors found brake violations. It sits on his property near the Bullitt County line.
 
Not only could Goad not produce Bus 450's maintenance records, he admitted to investigators that he "had not done an annual inspection in a few years because he had been off work and in a nursing home."

Asked how a vehicle delinquent in its inspections and using scrap tires could still be on the road, Officer Jared Newberry of the Kentucky State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement explained that not all buses subject to KSP inspections will ever be inspected by KSP.

"We've got road units out there looking for violations," Newberry explained.  "We're looking for things safety related. Sometimes things do slip through the cracks."
 
Newberry said he is confident state police would have discovered any serious violations if Bus 450 had been selected for a roadside inspection. 
 
Kentucky law does require annual inspections which can be carried out by any certified inspector, including the bus owner.

JCPS requires annual and monthly inspections that must be kept on file, but unless authorities demand to see them, the records go unchecked.
 
Commonwealth Bus Service is an umbrella company for 12 different bus owners. 

Its treasurer says Goad is the only one who did not maintain his records at their office.

Two weeks after the crash, the Department of Transportation swooped in and noted dozens of safety procedure violations at Commonwealth Bus Service, including citations for insufficient drug testing, driver training, driver background investigation, maintenance and inspection records and operating unsafe vehicles.
 
On July 9, the US Department of Transportation proposed an UNSATISFACTORY rating for Commonwealth indicating it was "operating at an unacceptable level of compliance."
 
Commonwealth took some corrective action, and on August 23, the rating was upgraded to CONDITIONAL.

Until Friday, Jefferson County Public Schools continued to use Commonwealth for field trips.

A JCPS spokesman explained that the district was operating under the understanding that the change to Commonwealth Bus Service's safety rating was due to "paperwork" issues rather than non-compliance on inspections.

"Our Transportation representative says neither (Goad or a Commonwealth representative) disclosed to him that the inspections had not been done and only that the paperwork had yet to be retrieved," explained JCPS Spokesman Ben Jackey in an e-mail to WHAS11 News.  "Transportation had a conversation with KYDOT weeks after the accident. In that conversation, our Transportation representative says that the state informed us the change in Commonwealth’s status was due largely to a paperwork issue and made no reference to inspections not being performed by the owner."

Runions said Kentucky safeguards failed her daughter and everyone else on Bus 450.

"It failed and luckily didn't cost a life, but it cost a lot of heartache and a lot of injuries," Runions said.

The LMPD police report says Bus 450 also had expired plates and no registration.

Its owner - Michael Goad - is no longer listed on the Commonwealth roster.  WHAS11 has learned Goad is now working as a driver for another charter company, DC Tours, whose owner said Goad has nothing to do with their bus maintenance.

JCPS is reviewing Commonwealth's record.  So far, the district has had to find different transportation for more than 250 school trips this month that were originally booked with Commonwealth.
 

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