Records released after bus accident don't paint full picture

- As the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office wraps up its accident investigation, questions continue to surround whether the school bus driver or the condition of the bus itself may have contributed to Thursday’s accident near Bryant Elementary School.

Surveillance video shows Bus #3049 careening down a street, through a neighborhood guard gate, and into a retention pond. The 27 children onboard during the terrifying ordeal managed to escape the overturned bus with only minor injuries.

The incident has highlighted two ongoing problems for the district: An aging school bus fleet and a shortage of qualified drivers.

BUS DRIVER

The driver, 54-year-old Lenoir Sainfimin, was hired as a substitute driver in August. He did not respond to requests for an interview. Records released from the school district indicated he had his commercial driver's license since 2006 and received a careless driving citation on January 1, 2014, after which he completed traffic school to have points removed from his license. 

Records FOX 13 obtained from the DMV indicate that careless driving citation involved a crash. DMV records also showed he had made nine attempts each before passing the general knowledge portion and air brake portions of his commercial driver license exam.

The rules section took four attempts, the passenger portion took five attempts, and the school bus portion took three attempts.

BUS MAINTENANCE

The bus involved in the accident had nearly 300,000 miles and was built in 1995. The Department of Education requires that busses be inspected at least every 20 school days the bus is in service.

Just before the close of business on Monday, a school district spokeswoman Tanya Arja provided copies of inspections from May and June that were not provided during Friday’s news conference.

In the June inspection report, the drag link is identified as needing attention.  Also marked with an “x” are components of the brake system –brake adjustments – front and rear – and the bleed reservoir, with the note: “bleed air tank.” The item “bleed reservoir” is marked with an “x” and circled in four of the seven inspection checklists done last year.

At broadcast time, Arja had not yet responded to a follow-up question about how mechanics addressed the issue. 

According to the DOE’s how-to manual for bus inspections, items marked with an “x” and circled do not affect the safe operation of the bus, but require a repair before being returned to service or within a “reasonable amount of time.”

Inspections were not done in November, January, or March of the last school year because of school breaks, according to Arja.

The school district plans to outline a request to purchase 200 more busses at an upcoming board meeting. The base price for a school bus averages approximately $100,000, according to a state Department of Education pricing guide.

HCSO expects to release the results of its investigation this week. 911 calls may be released at that time. The school district is also expected to release video from onboard the school bus, but will redact some parts due to the students involved, the superintendent said. 

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