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NTSB Faults Texas Prison Guard, Road Crews in Transport Bus Deaths

The federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently investigated and issued a final report concerning a 2015 prison transport bus accident that claimed the lives of eight prisoners and two guards. The report faulted both the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) officer driving the vehicle as well as the state’s highway department, which had failed to promptly repair a guardrail that jutted into a lane of traffic.

Killed in the January 15, 2015 crash were TDCJ prisoners Byron L. Wilson, Tyler E. Townsend, Jesus Reyna, Kaleb D. Wise, Adolfo Ruiz, Michael S. Stewart, Angel Cruz Vasquez and Jeremiah Ruben Rodriguez. Prison guards Christopher Davis, 53, and Eligio Garcia, 45, also died in the crash. Garcia was the bus driver; a third guard, Jason Self, 38, survived and was listed in critical condition.

Four prisoners – Damien A. Rodriquez, Remigio Pineda, Terry L. Johnson, Jr. and Hector Rivera – were injured; it took five ambulances to transport the accident survivors to a hospital for evaluation. None of the prisoners or guards were wearing seatbelts, nor was the bus equipped with emergency roof hatches or exit windows. Prison transport vehicles are exempt from those requirements under federal regulations.

The bus, a 2015 Blue Bird Vision according to the NTSB report, “was traveling westbound on Interstate 20 near Penwell, Texas, enroute from Abilene to El Paso, when it departed the roadway and collided with a moving train.” The bus was traveling below the speed limit on an icy highway when it struck a portion of a guardrail that had been damaged in previous accidents and protruded several feet into the highway. A Texas Department of Public Safety officer was already on the scene at the time the accident occurred.

After striking the damaged guardrail, the transport bus entered the median, became airborne, left the highway and struck a Union Pacific freight train that was passing under a nearby overpass. The bus was completely destroyed.

NTSB investigator Pete Kotowski said it was necessary to examine the icy conditions, driver behavior and the lack of protection for the prisoners, who were handcuffed in pairs and confined in cages.

“You want to make sure that if a person is restrained in a vehicle that they also have adequate protective space around them to survive the collision as well,” he noted.

The Texas prison system transports around 590,000 prisoners annually – almost four times the state’s daily prison population – in approximately 22,000 trips that cover nearly 5 million miles.

The final findings in the NTSB’s report, adopted by the agency on April 21, 2016, determined that the protruding guardrail, icy road conditions and driver error contributed to the crash and fatalities. Also contributing to the tragic accident was the failure of Texas road crews and the highway patrol to prevent another vehicle from striking the already-damaged guardrail.

The accident was the deadliest prison bus crash known to PLN, but such incidents are not unusual. Most recently, on December 16, 2016, a TDCJ transport bus crashed near Raymondville, sending 16 prisoners and two guards to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. According to a news report, a Texas Department of Public Safety official said the bus was traveling too fast for the road conditions when it swerved to avoid a stopped vehicle, rolled over and hit a pole.


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