More than five months since six people died and 10 were injured in a rattling two-bus crash in Southwest Baltimore, federal investigators have identified “deficiencies” in the process City Schools officials use to vet bus drivers.
Glenn Chappell, the 67-year-old driver of a school bus that careened into an MTA commuter bus on Frederick Avenue on Nov. 1, had been identified as the driver at fault in the crash. His driving and medical records showed a history of crashes and seizures, hypertension and diabetes while he was operating school buses for private companies chartered by City Schools. He also had record with criminal charges and was found by state officials to be driving on an invalid license after he was killed.
In its report issued today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the school system failed to “adequately review or take action in response to” past crashes or incidents while Chappell was operating school buses, which included “at least 12” within the last five years before the November 2016 fatal accident.
City Schools only had records on four crashes, along with a report and incomplete records on a fifth one. In all five crashes, Chappell hit parked cars or stationary objects. In one of them, Chappell “pass[ed] out” and a teacher’s aide was injured. Chappell had students on his bus in two of the cases, though none were hurt.
According to the NTSB, the Maryland State Department of Education requires that after one crash involving injury or damages appreciated at more than $1,500, the driver sit down with a supervisor. Unfortunately, the school system didn’t document monetary damages in four of the five crashes, according to the NTSB. In the one incident with an estimate, damages came out to $1,100.
After the accident in which the teacher’s aide was hurt, investigators found a school system supervisor took no actions, and nothing was done to evaluate Chappell’s medical condition.
“Because BCPS failed to adequately document the school bus driver’s previous crashes, school district decision-makers were left with incomplete information when making the determination of whether this driver should be disqualified from driving a school bus for BCPS,” investigators wrote.
They also said City Schools failed to respond to nearly a dozen alerts of criminal charges filed against Chappell during the time he was driving for AAAffordable Transportation, the contractor hired by City Schools. This also violated state procedures, they said.
The school system stopped working with AAAffordable transportation after the horrific November crash. In a statement from spokeswoman Edie House Foster today, City Schools said it has ramped up auditing of driver certifications, post-accident reviews of drivers and retraining and monitoring programs for drivers in the last five months.
“The report received today from the National Transportation Safety Board will contribute to continuous improvement of our transportation services,” the statement said. “City Schools is committed to taking recommended actions to ensure the safety of students, staff members, and the public.”
At the end of the report, the NTSB issued three recommendations. The first, which investigators said is “urgent,” proposes that City Schools ask the Maryland State Department of Education to order a third-party audit of the school district’s transportation department.
Once that’s finished, investigators wrote that City Schools should “take the corrective actions recommended to improve internal controls and ensure that all school bus drivers meet the qualification standards.”
Separately, the NTSB says the state education department should review its conditions for school bus drivers to clarify what exactly will disqualify a driver, and require school systems to notify the state if drivers are found unqualified in pre-employment screenings.
A spokesperson for the state education department hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the NTSB’s report.