A tragic school bus accident in Iowa killed two people and left safety experts mystified over why the two could not get off the bus before a fire took their lives. Safety advocates say fires on school buses are rare and buses are designed so passengers can quickly exit in case of emergency. Investigators are now examining what caused the fatal school bus accident, why the bus caught fire, and how it was that two people did not get off the bus in time. The tragedy comes a week after a school bus crash in Georgia killed a five-year-old girl.
Riverside Community School District Bus Accident Occurred Shortly After Picking Up First Student
At around 7:00 a.m. Tuesday, December 12, a school bus in picked up 16-year-old Megan Klindt in Oakland, Iowa, to take her to school. She was the first pick-up of the day and was the only person on the bus other than the bus driver. As the bus backed out of Klindt’s driveway, it somehow ended up in a side ditch and caught fire. Officials aren’t sure, however, if the bus crashed into the ditch and then caught fire or if it caught fire first.
First responders arrived at the scene of the Iowa school bus fire about 13 minutes after the first 911 was made, but the bus was engulfed in flames, making it impossible for rescuers to get to the victims. Both Klindt and 74-year-old bus driver Donald Hendricks died.
The bus was operated by the Riverside Community School District, which is responsible for around 700 students. Grief counselors were brought in to help staff and students following the deaths, although school remained in session following the accident.
“This morning, the Riverside Community School District suffered a tragedy when we lost a student and an employee in a school bus accident,” said Superintendent Timothy Mitchell in a statement. “Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones.”
Officials Investigating Cause of School Bus Crash and Why Victims Could Not Escape
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating not only what caused the crash, but why the bus caught fire and why Klindt and Hendricks could not get off the bus. According to government statistics, there are around 379 bus fires annually, but usually only one fatality per year.
“This is an absolute mystery,” said Debbie Hersman, president and chief executive officer of the National Safety Council. “School buses are designed with safety in mind and the fact that two adult people could not get off the bus in time to save their own lives is a big concern.”
A full investigation could take 12 to 14 months, although a preliminary report could be out within two weeks of the crash. The NTSB was called in to investigate the accident due to the “unusual circumstances” surrounding the crash.
Among the details that have emerged so far:
- The bus was an International model from 2005;
- Some International model buses from 2005 were subject to an NHTSA recall due to an “electrical circuitry issue,” though it is not known if that specific bus was part of the recall; and
- The bus was a diesel bus and had a reinforced fuel tank.
The NTSB has taken toxicology samples for examination and is looking into whether the bus had functional monitoring equipment that could shed light on why the victims remained on the bus after the fire started.
Could a Fire Suppression System Have Saved Victims of the Iowa School Bus Fire?
In Iowa, school buses must be inspected twice a year and students and drivers are required to practice emergency drills twice a year as well. The school buses are not required to have seatbelts and although they do have fire extinguishers, they are not required to have fire suppression systems. Those systems deploy a mist throughout the bus to slow a fire down and provide time for students and drivers to escape.
Chris Darling, executive director of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, said he was taking calls from school transportation directors worried about how the tragedy occurred. Darling says there aren’t any answers yet as to what happened. He noted that photos of the bus showed roof hatches and side escapes.
“I, along with a lot of directors in the state of Iowa, are just waiting to hear how they couldn’t get out of there,” Darling said. “It must have been a very fast event.”
Victim’s Family Struggles with Loss after Tragic Bus Accident
Megan Klindt’s family spoke to the media and talked about their struggle in the wake of her death.
“I don’t think anybody knows how to prepare for something like this,” Megan’s sister, Jessica, said. “And I think everybody knows, too, it just gets harder in the days to come, once you realize the void that’s there when a child is gone.”
Klindt’s mother and sister Michelle were both at home when the accident happened. They ran out to try to help, but couldn’t. According to family members, Klindt’s body was found near Hendricks’.
“I would almost say she was up, trying to get the bus driver—get his seat belt off, and it took her life,” Klindt’s father, Glen, said. “And she was that kind of person. She would help everybody.”