NTSB: No Mechanical Problems with Pennsbury Bus
FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. - January 18, 2007 (WPVI) -- The NTSB said Thursday that investigators have not found any major mechanical errors with the school bus involved in last week's accident at Pennsbury High School.
According to investigators, the accelerator, ignition, transmission and brakes are all functioning normally.
Peter Kotowski of the NTSB told the press Thursday, "We know that the brakes do function... But the amount of braking efficiency and the overall braking performance we do not know at this time. And we intend to find that out after January the 29th."
They did find that the brakes were out of adjustment, but it is not clear if that would have been a factor in the accident.
The manufacturer of the brakes is going to inspect the bus on January 29th.
NTSB officials have not ruled out driver error as the cause of this accident.
17 students were injured in the crash last Friday in which the bus plowed into a group outside the school, then crashed into a retaining wall. Ashley Zauflik remains in the hospital in critical condition.
William Goldman Jr., the Zauflik family attorney, told Action News that she had emergency surgery Thursday afternoon to have her left leg amputated above the knee. Goldman said the operation saved her life. Zauflik was placed into a medically induced coma.
The driver, John McCleary, told investigators that just as he was getting ready to move his bus into position, he heard a tremendous roar and the bus started moving on its own.
"I kept my feet on the brake and it still kept moving as we went into the crowd of students, " he told Action News on Tuesday.
Witnesses told investigators that they did not see any brake lights, but the lights are working properly.
McCleary says he pulled the switch, but nothing happened. He tried shifting into neutral and reverse. He said he pulled out the key, but nothing happened
"My options became pretty limited either to hit another bus or hit the wall, and I thought I was going to die," he said.
Investigators on Thursday said that the key was found in the ignition after the accident and the bus was still in low gear, not in neutral.
"We know that this type of bus configuration if you go into neutral, you will just be free-coasting just like in an automobile," said NTSB investigator Peter Kotowski.
McCleary's lawyer, Louis Busico, has said there was no operator error.
"The message I am getting from law enforcement as well as the NTSB is this was, tragically, a complete mechanical failure," said Busico on Tuesday.
After the NTSB's report came out Thursday, McCleary told Action News, "I know there was a problem. I was there. And everybody who was watching, all the kids saw it. So to pretend its not there - it's a little funny." McCleary went on to say, "I really can't explain it... I've never been in this position before. I don't know how to do deal with a lot of the things that are happening. I don't know how to make it go away."
Officials said McCleary did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the accident.
McCleary had never driven Bus 42 before that day. It was a substitute for another bus that was being repaired. Investigators say he was not familiar with the different pedal configurations. That leaves open the possibility that McCleary might have confused the gas pedal with the brake pedal.
Bus 42 is a 13-year-old Thomas Built MVP model vehicle with 205,000 miles on it.
The bus was involved in a similar accident 13 years ago. An NTSB investigator has interviewed the woman who was driving then.
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