I-TEAM: Bus contractor launches internal investigation into wheels falling off buses

Transportation expert: human error reason behind dangerous incidents

A day after showing a frightening video of a wheel coming off a school bus filled with Duval County students — the News4JAX I-TEAM continues to push for answers about how it happened.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after showing a frightening video of a wheel coming off a school bus filled with Duval County students — the News4JAX I-TEAM continues to push for answers about how it happened.

An expert told the I-TEAM he believed it was human error that caused two wheels to fall off buses in three days.

Parents and students said they want more attention to this dangerous matter.

I-TEAM: Bus contractor launches internal investigation into wheels falling off buses

A spokesperson for the Duval County Public Schools bus contractor, Student Transportation of America (STA), acknowledged it was the second tire to come off a bus with the same driver on the same route and said there’s an internal investigation underway.

STA is one of the multiple contractors hired to transport Duval’s children to and from school and activities.

The video speaks for itself. It shows the wheel of a school bus falling off on Wednesday, rolling next to the bus at a quick pace as students yell with concern.

Parents have safety concerns after a frightening video captured the moment a wheel fell off of a moving school bus in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

A student recorded the video and circulated it with other children whose parents sent it to the I-TEAM.

It’s the second incident in Duval County this week. STA buses 441 and 443 were reported to have nearly identical problems two days apart. Parents also sent the I-TEAM video and pictures from the issue on Monday. It happened on the Cesery bridge in Arlington.

Mother, Gladys Wheelings, whose daughter is a freshman at Paxon School for Advanced Studies, said the teen was onboard for both incidents.

“Not only is it dangerous for them, but on the highway, major highway, you could cause a major accident,” Wheelings said, calling for a full investigation.

Related: I-TEAM: Frightening video shows Duval County bus wheel fall off with students on board

STA leaders tell the I-TEAM it was the same driver on the same route experiencing issues. Many of the same students were on board. However, the company swapped out buses after the Monday incident.

“Each one of those kids is at risk right now,” said Joe Lackey, as he watched the videos.

Lackey is Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Cecil Center Campus dean and continues to run the FSCJ Commercial Vehicle Driving Program. The curriculum includes training for bus and truck drivers.

Lackey said drivers must do a pre-trip and post-trip inspection. It’s the law.

“The ultimate responsibility relies on the person that’s driving the bus,” he said. “That’s where it begins and ends.”

That includes checking over the entire bus, but the wheels and engine are among the most important.

“I’m going to put my hand on every one of these lug nuts and verify that they’re all tight,” he said as he demonstrated on an FSCJ training bus. “That none of them are loose. And that none of them have been loose. And if I’m satisfied, I’m good. But if not, I’m not going to drive that truck or bus. If I see any deviation from the norm, that bus doesn’t move.”

He said even one loose lug nut could cause the others to come off and set up for a dangerous situation like what happened here. He noted that rust and cracks show signs the lug nut isn’t on tight enough or isn’t strong enough.

Lackey added that the consequences could be deadly for the bus driver, students, and others on the road.

Most school buses have one wheel on each side in the front and two on each side in the back. Both wheels fell off the back of the buses. Lackey said while only one came off each time, it is enough to cause the bus to lose control and potentially flip.

A spokesperson for the contractor, Student Transportation of America, replied to questions from the I-TEAM confirming there is an internal investigation.

“Student Transportation of America is committed to the highest safety standards in every aspect of our operations. In response to this week’s incidents, the company implemented a comprehensive strategy to address the issue. STA removed the impacted buses from service and conducted an additional inspection of our fleet. Additionally, to make sure we check every box from both process and equipment perspective, the company proactively purchased new torque wrenches for each Jacksonville location.

STA is dedicated to operating the safest fleet possible and has updated and added policies and procedures to ensure we achieve that goal.”

When asked, the spokesperson would not comment on the status of the driver behind both incidents.

A spokesperson for DCPS sent the I-TEAM a statement about the incidents as well.

“We are aware of this incident, and we share the concerns of parents and the community about this problem. We have already been in contact with Student Transportation of America. This evening, they will be checking wheel attachments on all of their buses. Additionally, their regional safety team has been activated to review local processes and procedures for fleet inspection. We again commend the bus driver for their handling of this situation, and we are thankful that no one was injured. However, we find this unacceptable. We will continue to hold the bus company accountable for ensuring incidents like these do not continue.”

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.