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USU to cut full-size vans from fleet, officials say

Change follows review into crash that killed professor, 8 students

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Utah State University will cut full-size passenger vans from its fleet, officials announced Thursday after a four-month review of the vans involved in a September accident that killed eight students and one professor.

"I'm thrilled," said Beverly Bailey, sister of Evan Parker, the instructor who was driving the van that rolled on I-84 near Tremonton Sept. 26. "They are dangerous, and there's been enough accidents that they've realized that finally."

The 50, 12- and 15-passenger vans in USU's fleet will be sold to buy 15-passenger buses with dual rear tires, a feature missing on the vans. The decision to trade in for sturdier vehicles follows a recent decision by the Utah System of Higher Education to sell the larger vans for smaller suburbans or minivans.

"This is the right thing to do," said Glenn Ford, vice president of business and finance at USU. "And now is the right time to do it."

Ford added that the decision to purge the vans came after consultation with university personnel while the school's vans were grounded after the accident.

Bailey said the dual-wheeled buses are a much better option than the 15-passenger vans, particularly because the USU crash was caused by a tire blowout on the left rear side of the van. A forensics report commissioned by the state Division of Risk Management stated there was no explanation for the blowout and suggested the tire be examined.

"At Christmastime I was at a tire store and one of those big vans came in from a day-care and I had kind of an emotional reaction," Bailey said. "I said to the driver, 'Do you know how dangerous those things are?' "

The new USU policy will allow 15-passenger vans to be used for cargo within a 10-mile radius limit from campus. The new policy still requires drivers of any school vehicles to undergo training and follow vehicle operation standards including wearing a seatbelt, taking rests every two hours and obeying nighttime driving restrictions.

"We recognize that this change in policy has significant impact across the university," Ford said.

All state schools are in the midst of creating new policies on who can drive the full-size vans and whether they can be used at all. Commissioner of Higher Education Rich Kendell said the state system wants to get the vans out of rotation as soon as possible and has asked the Utah Legislature for $400,000 for replacement vehicles.

The state plan, he said, is to replace every four vans with five smaller vehicles. The Legislature has to approve any additions to the fleet before higher education officials can move forward.

The governor's office is also hammering out a policy to downsize all state fleet vehicles from 15-passenger to 12-passenger vans.

E-mail: estewart@desnews.com