Tougher standards for school bus drivers and a fire suppression system could have prevented the deaths in a 2017 school bus fire in western Iowa, federal safety investigators say.
The Des Moines Register reports that National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the Riverside Community School District failed to ensure that the driver was medically fit before the crash, which killed two in December 2017.
"We've got to send the message that by God if you're a school district you have a responsibility to make sure that you're providing the oversight that those kids deserve," says NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
The 74-year-old bus driver, Donald Hendricks, who died in the fire along with his 16-year-old passenger Megan Klindt, had mobility difficulties that limited his ability to evacuate the bus. Hendricks used a walker and had back surgery scheduled the week of the fire.
Klindt's family has a wrongful death lawsuit pending against the school district.
District Superintendent Tim Mitchell says the district cooperated with the NTSB investigation and is working to ensure that its bus transportation is safe.
The bus became stuck after Hendricks backed out of Klindt's rural driveway and the bus's right rear wheels dropped into a 3-foot-deep ditch.
Investigators say the fire likely started in the bus's turbocharger, which overheated after the bus's rear tires became stuck in a drainage ditch with the exhaust blocked and Hendricks revved the engine in an effort to free the vehicle.
Having a fire suppression system could have provided more time to evacuate, the NTSB says. The federal requirements for school bus fire safety haven't been updated since 1971.