OLATHE, Kan., June 4 (UPI) -- U.S. transportation officials disclosed Tuesday they shut down a Kansas party bus operator, finding it "utterly deficient" in running a safe operation.
In his May 29 order directing Midnight Express of Olathe, Kan., to cease operations, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration field administrator Darin G. Jones cited a laundry list of safety shortfalls in a May 4 accident in which Jamie Frecks, a 26-year-old new mother, fell to her death while aboard one of the firm's buses that had been hired for a friend's bachelorette party in Missouri.
The DOT said its inspection of the bus found the company's owners had failed to obtain a DOT vehicle number -- and thus it was never inspected by federal authorities. Had it been inspectors would have found a host of safety violations. Among them, the DOT said: The brake pedal went down to the floor when depressed; a rear emergency exit was blocked by an ice maker and the handle was jammed and inoperable; the fire extinguisher was empty since 2004; and exhaust leaked under the passenger compartment.
But despite all that, the thing that inspectors said killed Frecks was a deficient door. The party bus had previously been a wheelchair van and was converted to its present state. The wheelchair lift that blocked a side bus door had been removed and nothing put in its place. So when the bus carrying hit a bump while taking a sharp curve, Frecks fell through the door that hadn't been closed properly and fell onto a roadway where she was fatally struck by three other vehicles.
The "door ajar" alarm that would have alerted the driver the door wasn't properly closed also was not functional.
"Midnight Express' operational structure and safety management controls are so utterly deficient as to substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death if not discontinued immediately," the DOT inspection order said.
The bus' condition was so bad DOT investigators wouldn't even let its owners drive it out of the impound lot -- they required it be towed.
DOT investigators also found Midnight Express did not carry the federally mandated $5 million insurance rider for all commercial passenger vehicles.
"There is no higher priority than safety," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement posted on the department's website Tuesday. "Passengers on any commercial van or bus should feel confident they've boarded a safe vehicle ... ."