News 4 Investigates: Digging into inspection reports after school bus fire

14 students on this bus got out safely when it caught on fire on EB I-44 near Lindbergh Monday evening. Credit: KMOV

Local school administrators are alarmed after a bus caught fire with students inside.

With 36 high school students on board, the driver heard a noise, smelled smoke and pulled over on I-44 at Lindbergh Monday night.

Everyone was evacuated quickly. Four students treated for minor injuries.

Still school officials are very alarmed.

“It’s unacceptable to think that a bus can just spontaneously combust on a ride home,” said Dr. Eric Knost with the Rockwood School District.

He says while the students on board attend Lafayette High, they're all transfer students through a desegregation program known by the acronym VICC or Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation. VICC pays for its busing with Durham School Services.

Durham is the same company that operates buses in Chattanooga, including this bus that was recently involved in a horrific crash that killed five kids.

Dr. Knost says he's had some minor concerns with Durham services in the past, but with this recent fire, he wants answers.

“We want it to be safe, appropriate, comfortable, and I don't want to have to worry about a bus to be engulfed in flames,” said Dr. Knost.

News 4 went directly to Durham services.

“A person's vehicle shouldn't just catch fire driving down the road, why should a bus just catch fire on the road?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager.

“I really wish I had the answer to that, because I would have been able to prevent yesterday from happening,” said Greg Cain General Manager of the local division of Durham.

Cain says all they know now is that it was engine failure that caused the fire.

News 4 wasn’t allowed to see the bus, because Cain says the investigation is ongoing but News 4 caught sight of it from the road.

Cain tells News 4 the bus had passed all recent inspections and was up to date on all maintenance. Cain says there were no red flags.

“The driver had no warning lights, all the gauges and everything was normal,” said Cain.

As for all their other buses, in 2016, 84 percent of Durham buses in the VICC program passed inspection by the Missouri Highway Patrol.

“Durham buses are safe, I would ride a bus, I would put my kids on a bus,” Cain said.

News 4 asked for the inspection reports of that particular bus but are waiting to hear back from the state and Durham officials. They will be re-inspecting buses with similar engines, News 4 has learned

Durham Corporate headquarters provided the following statement:We are happy that all of the students are safe, and commend our driver for calmly and quickly evacuating the bus. The incident is currently under investigation, and we are working with authorities to determine the cause.Meanwhile, Rockwood Schools issued this statement from Superintendent Dr. Eric Knost:Dear Rockwood Families,

Last night, some our Lafayette High School students were involved in a school bus fire near I-44 and Lindbergh on the ride home from after-school activities. We are beyond thankful that our 36 Rockwood students and the Durham school bus driver escaped the situation with only a few students sustaining minor injuries. We appreciate the driver's ability to react quickly and get our students to safety.

Nonetheless, I am very concerned about the seriousness of this situation. For those of you unaware of the incident, Durham is the contracted bus company that serves our students who participate in the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) program. The Durham driver had noted smoke coming from the engine during the drive and immediately took steps to evacuate all students before the fire erupted.

This morning I requested a full accounting of the incident. We realize accidents do happen, but we need to know an in-depth investigation will be completed to determine why this occurred and how it may have been prevented. Bottom line, this degree of equipment failure is unacceptable.

Our students are our number one priority, and they all deserve safe, dependable transportation to and from our schools. I will push for specific answers and we will do everything possible to make sure such incidents are prevented.

Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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