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FMCSA discussed bus firm's bad maintenance record with carrier days before fatal crash

Investigators continue working the scene where at least eight people were killed and 38 people were injured after a tour bus carrying Mexican tourists careened out of control while traveling down a mountain road, struck a car, flipped and plowed into a pickup truck, near Yucaipa, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. (Associated Press: NICK UT)

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

2/8/2013

WASHINGTON — Only days before one of the carrier’s buses was involved in a multi-fatality accident near San Bernardino, Calif., last Sunday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had conducted a compliance review of the operations of Scapadas Magicas and had discussed with company officials breakdowns in safety management systems that were resulting in vehicle maintenance violations, including two out-of-service orders involving the bus that crashed.

Seven passengers and the driver of a vehicle that the bus struck as it careened down a hill, died.

Late Friday, the FMCSA issued an imminent hazard operations OOS order against the carrier, putting it out of business in the United States.

While the order did not specify, the compliance review was likely the result of the carrier's Vehicle Maintenance BASIC, which is some 10 points above the threshold for intervention, and the fact that the carrier’s OOS rate for the past two years is 36 percent, some 16 percent above the national average.

“After the tragic crash earlier this week, FMCSA investigators quickly inspected this carrier’s other two buses, which had been operated on U.S. roads, and immediately shut them down,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

A post-crash investigation by FMCSA inspectors of Scapadas Magicas’ two other motorcoaches that had been operating in the U.S. found serious mechanical safety violations, and those buses were immediately placed out-of-service. 

FMCSA investigators also found that the company had failed to ensure that its vehicles were systematically inspected, repaired and maintained, and its drivers properly qualified and licensed, contrary to information provided by company officials in January 2013.

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The FMCSA said that the carrier uses drivers despite not having ensured the driver is qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle, including drivers where Scapadas Magicas had not made required checks into the driver's background.

Federal records show the bus involved in the accident had been the subject of five inspections during the past 24 months ending Jan. 25, 2013, but only one time — Oct. 10, 2011 — did a violation involve brakes. On that date, the bus had two violations, including no/insufficient warning devices and insufficient brake linings, neither of which is an OOS violation.

The roadworthiness of the 1996 bus loomed as a key issue after the driver told investigators the brakes failed as it descended from the popular Big Bear ski area.

A roadside inspection in California on Oct. 16, 2012, found seven violations, including an OOS violation for improper battery installation.

A roadside inspection May 25, 2012, resulted in an OOS violation for wheel fasteners loose and/or missing.

In all, the carrier has been cited for 10 vehicle OOS violations during the past 24 months.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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