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Party bus operator shut down after fatal Missouri accident

As Springfield personal injury lawyers, we know that accidents involving commercial buses can have devastating consequences. When an accident is caused by a negligent commercial motor vehicle operator, the end result can involve serious, life-threatening injury to innocent passengers.

Recently, a woman was killed in Kansas City after a party bus operator failed to comply with state and federal laws. The Kansas City Star reports that 26 year-old Jamie Frecks was a passenger on a party bus for a bachelorette party when the bus hit a bump as it rounded a curve. Upon hitting the bump, the doors opened and Frecks fell out backwards onto Interstate 35, where she was subsequently struck by at least three different vehicles. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The accident is still under investigation. However, thus far, law enforcement officials have discovered that the party bus was not registered through the state of Kansas, and it did not have a Department of Transportation (DOT) number, which is required by federal law. Because the vehicle was not properly registered, there is no record that the bus was inspected regularly in compliance with DOT regulations, which require a documented inspection of emergency exits and push-out windows every 90 days. Also, there is no evidence that the operators serviced, maintained and performed repairs on their vehicles.

To obtain a DOT number, a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle must have regular inspections and maintain a minimum amount of insurance coverage, which varies depending on the vehicle's seating capacity: the larger the vehicle's seating capacity, the more insurance coverage needed. A vehicle with seating of 16 or more is required to purchase $5 million in coverage.

"It's appalling this vehicle was permitted to operate for two years," Jim Hall, a transportation safety consultant and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the Star. "If there had been any inspection of this vehicle, it certainly should never have passed." The company operating the party bus, Midnight Express, has since been shut down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The party bus and limousine industry has grown significantly since the first companies emerged in Kansas City in the late 1990s. The industry has helped keep drunk drivers off the road and carry large groups of people from one destination to another. However, nationally, the industry has had some incidents involving passenger safety, which have drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Due to a rise in passenger deaths since 2010, federal officials are cracking down on bus companies, requiring more safety inspections and continually raising the bar for safety within the industry.

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Recent charter bus accidents cause passenger injuries, fatalities

922577_coaches.jpgCharter buses are a popular mode of transportation in Missouri and throughout the U.S., especially for high school and college students who are traveling to sporting or educational events. The companies that operate these buses have an obligation to ensure safe travel for their passengers, but, as our Springfield personal injury lawyers know, these buses don't always arrive safely at their destinations. Since February 27, there have been three serious accidents involving U.S. charter buses carrying college sports teams, and the most recent of these crashes had particularly tragic consequences.

The accident, which occurred on March 16 along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, left two people dead and several others injured. According to USA Today, the charter bus was carrying Seton Hill University's women's lacrosse team to a match in Millersville, PA at the time of the crash. The driver, 61 year-old Anthony Guaetta, reportedly veered off the road, struck an emergency call box and a guard rail, and then traveled about 70 yards before crashing into a grove of trees. Guaetta was pronounced dead at the scene, while three passengers were taken by helicopter to nearby hospitals. One of those passengers was team coach Kristina Quigley, 30, who was six months pregnant. Quigley and her unborn son were both pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident, though it could be weeks before they release their findings. In particular, they are working to determine what factors might have caused the driver to run off the road. "This [accident] occurred on probably the straightest stretch of turnpike anywhere in our system," said Bill Capone, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "There were no other vehicles involved. The suspicion is that something happened to the driver -- either he dozed off or there was a medical emergency."

However, Guaetta's autopsy indicates that he did not have a pre-existing medical condition, and he also tested negative for alcohol and drugs. In addition, investigators say both Guaetta and the bus were up-to-date on safety inspections. Guaetta was also wearing his lap and shoulder belt when the accident occurred, but law enforcement officials say there is no evidence that he attempted to brake or avoid the trees prior to impact.

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Driver inattention a common cause of Missouri school bus accidents

January 25, 2013

263341_school_bus.jpgSchool buses are built to provide students with the maximum possible protection in the event of a crash, and thankfully, Missouri school bus accidents resulting in injury aren't particularly common. However, when school bus occupants are injured in a collision, it's often because of the actions of the driver, not because of the bus itself. Indeed, driver error is a leading cause of school bus accidents in Springfield and throughout the United States.

Factors that contribute to school bus driver error may include fatigue, poor training, impairment, and, notably, inattention or distractedness. For obvious reasons, distraction can be an occupational hazard for school bus drivers. In a 2010 survey on the safety concerns of school bus drivers, the Transportation Research Board found that "93% of the respondents [indicated] that student passengers' behavior was distracting to the driver." If other forms of distraction are also present - like cell phone use, for example - the situation can be ever more dangerous.

This week, 42 people were reportedly injured when a school bus driver rear ended another bus in Covington, Georgia. The Newton Citizen reports that the first bus had slowed to drop off a child when the second bus struck it from behind. The two bus drivers and 40 students onboard the buses were taken to local hospitals with various injuries, but none were reportedly life-threatening.

In the days that followed, authorities inspected the second bus and examined the crash site to determine whether or not mechanical failure contributed to the collision. They found that the bus was in good working order and the likely cause of the crash was driver error. "The mechanical inspection and the braking (skid) marks left by the bus on the roadway at the collision site eliminate the failure of the braking system or other mechanical defect as the cause of the collision," Sherri Davis-Viniard, Director of Public Relations for the Newton County School System, told the Citizen.

The bus driver, who is currently on medical leave, faces disciplinary action and criminal charges. We don't yet know what factors may have prevented her from stopping in time to avoid the crash, but we do know that driver inattention can pose a serious threat to students' safety. Distraction was a key topic at the National Association for Pupil Transportation Summit, held in October 2012. At the Summit, attendees heard a presentation that focused on driver inattention and a Missouri school bus driver who struck a six year-old boy. The driver was dealing with a commotion as the boy got off the bus, and he simply lost track of where the boy was. "I believe when we get into a routine, we can lose our focus on what we are doing," the former bus driver said in a safety video. "That accident changed my life and caused a lot of heartbreak and sorrow for [the boy's] family."

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Greene County Missouri Accident Lawyers Provide School Bus Safety Reminders for Back to School Kids and Parents

August 26, 2011

Summer is such a fun time for kids. For everybody the summer break from school seems to go by so fast. 555003_first_day_in_first_grade.jpgYet it is back to school time and so Greene County accident lawyers have several school bus safety reminders for parents and kids to add to their school supply checklist.

Sadly, school bus accidents still occur. August 5 was the anniversary of a fatal school bus accident in Franklin County. And the headlines remind us of other tragic school bus accidents all the time. With this in mind, Springfield Missouri school bus accident lawyers urge you to review these important safety tips with your family.

Greene County Missouri School Bus Safety Tips
Tips for parents and all drivers:

  • Stop at school bus flashing red lights. Remember if you are tempted to drive around a stopped school bus, school buses are hard to see around. Don't take the chance of hitting a child.

  • Slow down. Observe all school bus flashing lights and drive the speed limit in school zones. In these areas there can be a lot of kids coming from all directions. It only takes an extra minute or two to slow down and avoid a tragedy.

  • Be patient any time a school bus is stopped. You must always assume a pedestrian is near if a school bus is stopped. Children tend to run or dart out suddenly. Be extra cautious around a stopped school bus.

Tips for students:

  • Always walk on the sidewalk.

  • Always walk to the bus stop, never run.

  • Try to arrive at least 5 minutes before the bus arrives.

  • Do not run or play around the bus stop area, wait quietly off of the street.

  • Always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop.

  • Stay in line when getting onto the bus and use the handrail.

  • Go directly to a seat and remain seated until the bus stops to let you off.

  • Stay facing forward and speak quietly while inside the bus.

  • Be extremely quiet when the school bus stops at railroad crossings.

  • Do not play, yell, get out of your seat, fight, or throw things on the bus.

  • Keep the aisles clear at all times, this includes feet and back-packs.

  • Never play with the emergency exits.

  • Listen to the driver at all times.

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Bus Accidents in the News in Springfield Missouri and Nationwide

Springfield Bus Accident Lawyers have noticed a rash of bus accidents taking place nationwide, from the terrifying to the simply bizarre. Here are some of the latest headlines, all from the past week in June:

1170123_bus_on_the_run.jpgHouston, TX-- "A Metro bus crash near the Medical District left the driver dead and the bus split in half." A bystander says, "Major accidents are awful; I've seen my share of them before. But this is unbelievable that a bus can be split in half like that."

Fort Lauderdale, FLA--Driver flees after hitting BSO inmate transport bus... This hit-and-run bus crash on June 22 involved a prisoner transport bus. None of the 45 prisoners on the bus were injured and the bus continued on its route to the jail after the crash, the Sheriff's Office said. (We have never heard of a hit-and-run bus accident before, but it proves there is a first time for everything.)

Salt Lake City, UT--Investigation continues after teen falls out of moving school bus...The bus was traveling eastbound when officials say the 17 year old special needs student got out of his lap belt, walked to the rear of the bus, opened the emergency exit door and fell out onto the road.

But the main bus accident in the news that has captured our interest is this Arkansas bus accident case:

Little Rock, ARK--Arkansas Supreme Court affirms insurance ruling in fatal Craighead County bus crash...

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School Bus Accident Leaves Six Year Old Dead, Springfield Missouri Parents in Shock

793842_school_bus.jpgSpringfield Missouri parents continue to learn the facts of a school bus accident. Parents in Springfield, Ozark, Nixa and the surrounding area continue to watch the story of a school bus accident that left a six year old boy dead this past January. The Missouri State Highway Patrol's investigation has now been released, with the conclusion that the 77 year old bus driver did not follow the prevailing safety protocol--he didn't wait long enough for Hunter Pitt to get out of the path of the bus before driving forward.

It's hard to imagine a more horrific accident. Springfield Wrongful Death Attorneys know all too well the shock and pain suffered by parents in such situations. Indeed, we are parents ourselves, and send our children off to school each day with the hope and prayer that they will be safe. That the very vehicle which should have transported this little boy safely was the instrument of his death--right in front of his home--is an unfathomable tragedy.

According to the MSHP's accident report, "This crash occurred because Willie R. Leonberger, 77, failed to account for both students he unloaded. Leonberger then failed to follow the proper protocol when such an incident occurs. Because of this, the school bus traveled forward before Hunter Pitt, 6, had successfully crossed the roadway. As a result, Pitt was struck by the bus."

Charges of second-degree involuntary manslaughter (a class D felony) were filed against the school bus driver, Willie Leonberger, on May 21st.

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