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Feds Take Action Against Texas Bus Crash Company, Criminal Charges Possible

Aug 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Another bus owned by the Texas company involved in a fatal crash last Friday has been ordered out of service by federal safety officials.  Inspectors from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said the bus was not authorized to operate. The bus was pulled out of service in Carthage, Missouri, site of the same religious festival victims of Friday's bus accident were to have attended.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in Texas are considering filing possible criminal charges against the owner of the bus involved in last week's tragic crash.

Friday's crash claimed the lives of 17 Vietnamese Catholics on their way to a religious festival.  Dozens of others were injured. Six of the survivors, including the bus driver, remained in critical condition on Monday. Initial reports say that the charter bus blew an illegally treaded tire, skidded off the highway and overturned.    The bus accident was the nation's deadliest since 2005.

Both the bus involved in the accident and the one removed from service yesterday were registered to Iguala Busmex.  Angel Tours Inc. was the tour operator of the fatal trip.  Both Houston-based companies are owned by Angel De La Torre.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said that “grossly deficient vehicle maintenance” contributed to Friday's tragedy.  The agency ordered Iguala BusMex and Angel Tours Inc. to cease commercial operations Sunday, finding that the companies posed an "imminent hazard." A second order issued to De La Torre said that  his "activities in connection with motor carrier operations pose an 'imminent hazard' to the public."

Authorities have also released the driving record of the bus driver, 52-year-old Barrett Wayne Broussard. Since 2001, he has been cited by police three times — once for driving while intoxicated and twice for speeding. Broussard has also failed roadside inspections twice in the last year, both times resulting in his vehicle being taken out of service for driver logbook violations.  When the second violation occurred, Broussard was driving ror Angel Tours.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Harris County District Attorney is considering filing criminal charges against De La Torre.  If a criminal prosecution does occur, it would likely focus on whether he or his companies intentionally provided false or fraudulent records or statements to  the  Federal Motor Carrier Administration.

The last time a Texas bus operator was subject to prosecution followed the 2005 Hurricane Rita bus crash near Dallas that killed 23 nursing home patients.  Owner Jim Maples was convicted of failure to maintain his buses and sentenced to six months of home incarceration and six months in a halfway house.

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