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More bus checks likely

Inspection plans come in wake of fatal Nebo crash

The Utah Department of Transportation's Motor Carriers Division likely will change how often and thoroughly it inspects commercial buses operating in the state.

The proposed changes, still to be formulated by the division, come in the wake of an Oct. 2, 2002, tour bus accident near Nephi that killed six people. A seventh person died later due to injuries suffered in the crash.

"We want to fulfill our mission to make sure bus traffic is safe," division director Rick Clasby said. "We're looking at a more structured approach to motor coach inspections."

However, Clasby added, "We feel real confident that the (existing) inspection process is very thorough."

Currently, the division inspects buses on a random basis, when incidents or accidents occur, or when problems are reported or suspected. Buses also receive inspections at ports of entry at the state's borders. But under the present system, some bus companies or individual buses might not be inspected for several years.

Now, the division is considering regular, scheduled inspections so each company's fleet would be inspected on an annual basis or perhaps several times a year.

Also being considered is whether those regular inspections should involve a company's entire fleet or buses chosen randomly from within the fleet.

The division oversees a total of 44 motor coach companies, which operate a combined 212 buses statewide.

One of those buses, operated by Donna's Tours Inc. of West Jordan, crashed last October while taking a group of senior citizens from the Ogden area on a foliage-viewing trip.

The driver of the 1986 Setra tour bus told investigators the brakes failed as he started the downhill section of the Nebo Loop. The bus then tipped on its side, hit a line of trees and slid to a stop on the side of the steep mountain.

"The accident report indicated the brakes were out of adjustment," Clasby said.

The Motor Carriers Division conducted its own investigation of the accident, but Clasby declined to release the report pending action by Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge, who has yet to decide whether to file criminal charges in the case.

A spokesman for Eldridge said Thursday the county just received UDOT's report on Wednesday. Eldridge hopes to make an announcement next week or the following week as to what charges, if any, will be filed.

A post-accident inspection of the company conducted by UDOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found 21 deficiencies. But the company's attorney, George Naegle, said those problems were "unrelated to the accident" and "easily fixed."

Donna's Tours, which had not had a serious accident in its previous 30 years of business, according to owner Donna Larsen, continues to do business.

State lawmakers weighed in on the issue during the recent 2003 session. A resolution sponsored by Rep. Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, urged tour bus companies to consider ways they could increase the safety of their buses.

HR8 also urged the Motor Carriers Division to review its inspection procedures to see if it could do more to improve safety.

Clasby said the division was already in the process of revisiting its inspections policy when Shurtliff's measure came to his attention.

"We're in support of the resolution and don't have any problem with her calling on us to look at the process," he said. "It definitely gives us a nice little incentive to continue down that path."

HR8 passed a House committee hearing with a unanimous vote but never made it to the full House for consideration before the session ended Wednesday.

Shurtliff said she received many calls after the accident from people who wanted a new law requiring commercial buses to be equipped with seat belts. But after some research and discussion, Shurtliff said she decided any legislation that mandated seat-belt use for buses was "not a practical thing to do."