A preliminary report on the National Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation into the fatal Dec. 12 school bus fire near Oakland, Iowa will likely be released shortly after the new year, an agency representative told Student Transportation News.
The NTSB spokesman said Wednesday that the initial findings usually are released no more than 30 days following an incident, but with the holidays the report could take the full amount of time. A full report into what caused the fire and why school bus driver Donald Hendricks, 74, and student passenger Megan Klindt, 16, were unable to evacuate is not expected until at least early 2019.
No other students or staff were on the bus at the time of the fire.
Another NTSB spokesman told STN earlier this month that the investigation was broad in scope at the time, and that investigators are looking to see if any National Highway Traffic Safety Administration vehicle recall may have played a part in the fire and loss of life. But, he added, such reviews are normal procedures.
“Basically, at this stage of the investigation the focus is to collect information and then verify that information,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for IC Bus, manufacturer of the 2005 model-year CE Series school bus involved in the incident, said the company is saddened by the loss of life. “Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones,” he told STN, adding that parent company Navistar is cooperating fully with NTSB on its investigation.
“There is nothing more important than the safety of the students and drivers that are transported in our buses,” he said.
The IC Bus spokesman explained that all safety related recalls for this specific bus had already been completed. A search of the NHTSA’s online recall database returned a federal investigation into engine fires in nearly 300 model-year 2005 IC Bus RE Series school buses, and if the chafing of the high-pressure power steering hose and the electrical harness as well as a leak in the optimal oil pressure switch also caused some reported engine fires in some model-year 2005 CE Series school buses.
However, NHTSA concluded in those an investigation should be expanded to the CE Series. But NHTSA closed the investigation after determining that the wire harness, power steering hose and oil line configurations in the CE Series were completely different than those in the RE Series.
Back in Iowa, a memorial service was held for Klindt on Dec. 16 at the local junior/senior high school she attended, with a funeral date still to be determined. Hendricks was laid to rest two days later. All classes were canceled so students and staff could attend, but the junior/senior high Winter Concert was held that evening as originally planned.
Superintendent Timothy Mitchell posted on the district’s Facebook page that psychological help remains available for the entire community.
“At times of severe trauma we all need extra support. We all need to be aware of how those around us and even how we are feeling,” he posted on Dec. 15. “We all need to provide the love and support for each other so we cope with this loss and reach constructive grief resolution. Remember that grieving is a process, not an event. We all need to allow ourselves and others adequate time to grieve in a manner that works for us and them.”
Mitchell added that he was grateful to see how students, staff and local residents came together following the tragedy. “You have also gone above and beyond in supporting each other and the community at this difficult time. The community has stepped up and been there for us,” he added. “We know that tough times are still ahead but ‘We R Riverside’ and we will do whatever it takes to move forward and be stronger as a result of this tragic event.”