Report: Bus Driver’s Poor English No Help As 23 Died

WRAL.com (Raleigh), April 13, 2006

DALLAS—The death of 23 nursing home residents aboard a bus that caught fire while fleeing Hurricane Rita could have been prevented if the driver had inspected the vehicle before leaving and known enough English to direct people to safety, according to sheriff’s documents.

The documents, which included affidavits by investigators and passengers, were used to build a negligent homicide case against Juan Robles Gutierrez. A grand jury refused to indict him for the Sept. 23 accident near Dallas.

Gutierrez, a Mexican national, has been ordered to cooperate in a federal case against his employer, Jim Maples, the owner of bus company Global Limo. Maples allegedly falsified driver logbooks and failed to maintain buses.

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The bus was set on fire by a malfunctioning back wheel on Interstate 45, and oxygen tanks used by the residents exploded in the heat. Nineteen people survived.

“He was unable to communicate with passengers regarding emergency exits prior to the trip, and he could not give them adequate warning that there were problems when the bus caught fire,” wrote Sgt. Kevin Feinglas.

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