The family of one of four girls killed in a 2014 bus crash in Oklahoma is calling for increased safety measures, saying they’re stunned by the shoddy bus construction. Lawsuits have been filed against the school and the maker of the bus, alleging the bus was unsafe to carry the softball team. Despite repeated accidents involving medium-size buses—the type of bus involved in the crash—such buses are still not subject to the same level of safety regulations as other vehicles.
School Bus Crashed Carrying Girls’ Softball Team After Game
On Friday evening, on September 26, 2014, a bus carrying the North Central Texas College’s girl’s softball team collided with a tractor-trailer that crossed the median. The team was traveling home after a game in Bethany, Oklahoma, against Nazarene University when the collision occurred at around 9:00 p.m. on Interstate 35, south of Turner Falls, Oklahoma.
Killed in the crash were:
- Brooke Deckard, 20
- Jaiden Pelton, 20
- Meagan Richardson, 19, and
- Katelynn Woodlee, 18.
Three of the victims died at the scene of the crash while the fourth died later at Arbuckle Memorial Hospital. More than 12 other people sustained injuries, including the tractor-trailer’s driver.
At the time of the collision, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain Ronnie Hampton described the bus crash as severe.
“This would rank at the top of the list of severe crashes,” Hampton said. “You have to understand, a lot of times it’s not so much the damage that makes these things very dramatic, it’s the age and the quantity of the people that were killed.”
Tractor-Trailer Collided with North Central Texas College Bus
The accident occurred when a northbound semi-truck driven by Russel Staley crossed the median and collided with the southbound bus. Following the collision, the tractor-trailer drove off the road into a wooded area. It took an hour for investigators to find the semi-truck.
Officials ultimately charged Staley with four counts of first-degree manslaughter for his role in the crash. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded the crash was likely caused by Staley failing to control his vehicle. That failure, the NTSB wrote, was probably linked to his use of synthetic cannabinoids. Although investigators found a pipe in the truck’s cab that tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids, drug tests did not find any conclusive evidence of drugs in Staley’s system.
Staley told investigators he was reaching into a cooler for a drink when he lost control of the truck.
The NTSB noted, however, that the bus traveled more than 1,100 feet with no evidence of braking or steering before colliding with the bus.
In January 2017, Staley committed suicide, before his trial began.
Bus Safety Also Cited in NTSB Report
In addition to blaming Staley for the crash, the NTSB also concluded there were issues on the bus that contributed to the deaths and injuries.
“Contributing to the severity of injuries was the lack of restraint use by the bus passengers and the lack of appropriate crashworthiness standards for medium-size buses,” the agency wrote.
That conclusion led the families of three victims to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Champion Bus Company, the company that manufactured the bus involved in the crash.
“You should see what they were riding in,” said Misty Woodlee, mother of Katelynn Woodlee. “We would never have put our kids in something like this.”
Among the issues parents cited as reasons for filing the lawsuit are that the bus was allegedly made of plywood, Styrofoam, and pieces that were not welded together properly. North Central Texas College also faces a lawsuit, with parents alleging the school did not enforce seatbelt regulations on the bus.
Parents Pushing for Stricter Bus Safety Rules
Jaiden Pelton was ejected from the bus in the crash. Her parents are now fighting for stricter bus safety regulations, with family members saying the team should never have been on the bus.
Asked to review the bus, automotive engineer Neil Hannemann told CBS News he agrees with the parents that the bus was not fit for carrying the softball team.
“This is just not a good design practice,” Hannemann said. “This looks to be something even more fragile than wood, almost a laminate almost a foam.”
The bus carrying the team is typically called a medium-size bus. It weighs around 26,000 pounds or less, has no baggage compartment under the passengers, and has a body on a chassis. They are the types of buses schools, sports teams, and other organizations tend to use. Medium-size buses, however, are not required to follow the same safety rules as other vehicles, or even as other buses.
The NTSB told CBS News that medium-sized buses have no regulations regarding structural integrity or crashworthiness. This despite repeated fatal accidents—including the March 2017 crash involving a medium-sized church bus and a pick-up truck in Texas. That crash killed 13 people.
The Pelton's are calling for stricter bus regulations. They join the NTSB, which says it is “very concerned about the lack of regulations addressing medium-size buses.”
Unfortunately, unless more action is taken to protect the occupants of medium-size buses, fatal bus accidents like these will continue to destroy families while bus companies are allowed to remain negligent.