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Update: FMCSA knew of Scapadas Magicas deficiencies yet gave them highest safety rating – before bus accident that left 8 people dead

Written by Steve Gursten Posted May 23rd, 2013

Inspection of Scapadas Magicas bus company one month prior to bus crash that killed 8 revealed failures to comply with federal regulations

Scapadas Magica fatal CA bus crash

You may recall this horrible bus crash from earlier this year in San Bernardino, CA.  The bus was owned and operated by Scapadas Magicas of National City, California. The bus was en route to Tijuana, Mexico, when the bus driver lost control of the vehicle. The bus rear-ended a sedan, careened into a pick-up truck, then exited the road before rolling over to a stop.

This terrible tragedy left 8 people dead, and 42 injured.

New facts recently came to light which show that this bus crash was entirely preventable.  Scapadas Magicas should not have even been operating, period.  During a January 9, 2013 audit, the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA) found that Scapadas Magicas was operating in clear violation of several Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

The violations included:

  • Flaws in its fleet’s brakes;
  • Drivers working excessive hours in violation of the safety regulations;
  • Deficiencies in the bus company’s paperwork recording bus maintenance;
  • Deficiencies in the bus company’s hiring process;
  • Inadequate drivers; and
  • Drug and alcohol testing policies that did not comply with the Safety Regulations.

So what did the FMCSA do about this?

Absolutely nothing.

Amazingly, despite all of this, Scapadas Magicas was still given the highest FMCSA rating of “satisfactory.”  The company pledged that it would be more attentive to safety rules, and would comply with FMCSA requirements.  Apparently this was enough to earn a satisfactory rating.

The company was thereafter allowed to continue operations without having any restrictions imposed upon it.  This is all documented in records obtained from the FMCSA pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.

Less than one month later, on February 3, 2013, this tragic bus accident occurred.

This crash was entirely preventable.  One of the problems noted by the FMCSA was inadequate brakes on the company’s buses.  This crash occurred when the bus driver’s brakes failed.  He subsequently lost control of the bus, struck two vehicles and rolled the bus over.

This is an example of the FMCSA not doing its job.  Sadly, this is not the first time.  Our attorneys  discussed another similar preventable truck accident on this blog involving truck company Highway Star, where the FMCSA failed to shut down a motor carrier until after it was too late.  In that fatal Kentucky crash, six people died.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman pointed out that the FMCSA has a certain pattern; taking action after it is too late.  The president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Henry Jasny, also weighed in.  “Historically, the agency has always wanted to jawbone and educate rather than take action,” he said.

When the FMCSA does not do its job, and when it takes the word of the very people who have already  demonstrated a clear pattern and practice of safety violations, innocent people get killed.  This failure is sadly unacceptable.

These new details are very, very disappointing.  How many innocent people have to die before the FMCSA realizes it cannot wait until after somebody gets hurt to deal with dangerous motor carriers?

The FMCSA has the power to immediately shut down any motor carrier and bus company which it deems to be an imminent hazard to public safety. Hopefully the FMCSA will learn a valuable lesson going forward.

For more information about these new developments please see: Bloomberg Business Week: Fatal Bus Crash Followed Bus Defects Ignored in U.S. Approval.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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