Sherman Texas Bus Crash – Angel Tours Bus should not have been in operation

Crews work to move the charter bus off of U.S. Highway 75 near Sherman.
Crews work to move the charter bus off of U.S. Highway 75 near Sherman.

The violations discovered in the bus belonging to Angel Tours that crashed in Sherman Texas Friday morning points to the stupidty and ignorance of a small percentage of people obsessed with ending the Cross Border Pilot Program, which has operated safely for the past 11 months, while ignoring American common carriers who flaunt and ignore the laws and rules thinking it does not apply to them, the bus crash Friday in Sherman Texas that claimed 16 lives is a prime example.

The owner of Angel Tours, 59-year-old Angel de la Torre, should be arrested and detained WITHOUT BAIL and charged with 16 counts of NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE! The idiot bus driver also!

The list of potential safety violations committed by the bus operator, authorities say, is staggering:

    The tire that blew out before the crash was a retread.

    The driver’s health certificate was expired.

    The operator’s buses are barred from traveling outside of Texas.

    The bus was marked with a temporary license plate.

Federal and state regulators are looking at how both companies linked to the 2002 model bus — Angel Tours and Iguala Busmex — owned by 59-year-old Angel de la Torre and located at the same Telephone Road offices in Houston’s East End, would dare to operate outside Texas considering their history of noncompliance with federal authorities.

“We have requested law enforcement agencies to be alert for any buses being operated by Angel Tours or Iguala Busmex, since they are not authorized to operate legally,” said John H. Hill, administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a written statement. “If found on the road, we want law enforcement to immediately stop and place the vehicles out-of-service

At issue are at least two things: how the companies could offer charter transportation outside the state of Texas when both are barred from doing so, and secondly, why bus companies barred from driving in other states can still operate legally in Texas.

No one at the bus line would comment.

“We’re in the middle of a very intense investigation,” said Keena Greyling, attorney for Angel/Iguala. “Because of that, we really can’t discuss anything further.”

Too many citations

Federal authorities imposed the restrictions on both companies because Angel Tours had too many citations for critical violations, and Iguala had not provided necessary insurance information, said Kristin Schrader, a safety administration spokeswoman.

In the past 30 months, Angel Tours collected 12 vehicle violations forcing authorities to revoke the carrier’s permission to travel across state lines in June, the same month de la Torre created a new bus company — Iguala — and located it in Angel Tours’ offices.

In March, for example, the federal inspectors found a bus had insufficient brake linings, false notations in driver log books that are kept to show how long drivers have been behind the wheel and for how many days in a row.

“They were identified as high risk and targeted for a compliance review, and it was done in May,” Schrader said of Angel. On June 23, Angel Tours was officially barred from interstate travel.

But there is no agency or office in Texas responsible for checking on bus companies whose operation is outlawed by the federal government.

The Texas Department of Transportation merely registers bus companies and verifies they have insurance. The Texas Department of Public Safety can only pull over vehicles when drivers commit a moving violation or drive a vehicle with broken equipment.

Between 2005 and mid-June of this year, DPS had ticketed Angel Tours drivers at least 13 times for 65 violations uncovered by troopers. Those citations included potentially serious safety shortcomings: faulty brakes, leaking fuel lines, broken shock absorbers, leaking tires or tires with insufficient tread.

Driver has criminal history including DWI

As the death toll today climbed to 17, it was learned that the company also had been warned about such issues as screening drivers for drugs and alcohol and keeping safety-inspection reports. Two of five drivers randomly checked in May did not have up-to-date medical certificates. The driver in Friday’s accident – 52-year-old Barrett Wayne Broussard of Houston – had a medical certificate that expired May 29.

In addition, Harris County records show Broussard was convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2001 and sentenced to 10 days in jail. His criminal record includes three other previous convictions from 1996 to 2004 for theft, assault and criminal trespassing.

A year ago, Broussard was ticketed by a state trooper in New Waverly for not retaining a current driver’s log for the previous seven days. The Angel Tours bus he was driving was placed out of service and his 53 passengers had to wait for another bus.

No one answered the door this morning at Broussard’s home. A neighbor, who did not give her name, said Broussard’s father told her on Friday that his son was driving the bus involved in the accident. The neighbor said she hasn’t seen Broussard’s father since that conversation.

Broussard could have still legally driven the bus, as long as the DWI incident happened while he was driving his personal vehicle and not a bus.

Investigators have not yet interviewed Broussard or the company’s owners. Blood samples taken from Broussard, who remains hospitalized, are being analyzed.

Formed a new company

Early information collected by National Transportation Safety Board investigators by late Friday revealed that the tire that blew out was retreaded, a violation of federal safety regulations.

NTSB officials confirmed that the driver had an expired health certificate, which is not a new violation for Angel Tours’ drivers who have been cited for operating buses without the required corrective eyewear or with current medical certificates, or driving with expired commercial licenses.

Less than two months ago, DPS troopers took an Angel Tours bus out of service in Brownsville after finding 10 violations, including a leaking fuel line and tank, bare power cables, burnt wiring in fuse boxes, and an exhaust leak.

Despite all of this, Angel Tours could legally continue operation in Texas.

But with the valuable routes to other states closed to Angel Tours last June, de la Torre created another way to do business.

On June 10, he filed papers with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office creating his new company, Iguala, and some time later, an application for interstate travel was sent to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The federal agency asked for proof of ownership and insurance. Receiving none from de la Torre, the agency never gave his newest company permission to cross state lines.

That being the case, why and how the company sold charter service to Vietnamese Catholic Church congregations looking for service to Missouri to attend an annual religious celebration, is unclear.

By late Friday, TxDOT, an $8 billion-a-year agency, could not locate proper vehicle identification information for the damaged bus or verify that either company owned the bus.

“It’s more unclear than clear at this point of the game,” said Christy Bird in the Texas Department of Transportation’s motor carrier division, who said she had not been able to find someone in the Houston license offices who could verify the bus’s registration and the identifying information connected to it. “But we’ll keep digging.”

Temporary license

By 6:30 p.m. Friday, the agency was still looking.

Bird confirmed that the bus was using a temporary license but that TxDOT could not locate when and how it was issued or whether it was properly obtained through the Houston registration offices.

TxDOT did have Angel Tours listed as an in-state operator but had no records of registration for Iguala.

Another issue considered in this case is whether de la Torre actually owned the bus that crashed or leased it from another company. Charter bus companies often turn to operators and lease their buses with as little as a handshake.

Attempts to reach de la Torre were unsuccessful. No one answered the phone at the company’s offices, and no one answered the door at de la Torre’s home, next-door to the bus companies. As a reporter knocked on the door early Friday morning, a car owned by de la Torre quickly left the home’s secured garage.

By late Friday, several people gathered inside the tiny Iguala/Angel Tours offices.

De la Torre’s ex-wife described her former husband as a “very responsible” bus operator who would not take shortcuts in required maintenance.

Blanca De La Torre, who capitalizes her name differently from her former spouse, said she met him more than 30 years ago in Chicago.

Her ex-husband, born in Harlingen, is the son of Mexican immigrants and a former Chicago bus driver.

She owns and operates Blanca’s Bus Service, a private school bus company.

She said she was shocked to hear that his company was involved in the bus crash.

“It surprised me a lot,” said De La Torre. “I couldn’t believe it, because he was a very responsible man and he wasn’t capable of sending out a bus that was not in good shape. He was a very responsible man.”

She said her former spouse worked for the Chicago Transit Authority as a bus driver until the couple moved to Houston in 1985.

Her husband started a tour bus company in 1996, first with a used bus he bought in Dallas and gradually upgrading to new buses, she said.

“First, he started taking tours to San Antonio, then Dallas — short trips. Then he started growing and would go to New Mexico, Colorado.”

Inaccurate records

Angel Tours’ drivers have been cited at least eight times in the past 2½ years, mostly for not keeping accurate records of how many hours they worked.

In May, the company was fined $1,910 for using a driver before he had undergone a pre-employment physical exam. Angel Tours also was fined $1,550 for using a driver who had not been medically re-examined in the past 24 months.

U.S. Department of Transportation records show that buses were involved in 118 fatal crashes in Texas between 2000 and 2006. The deadliest accident occurred when a bus carrying evacuees from the Brighton Gardens nursing home in Bellaire from Hurricane Rita in 2005 exploded in Dallas County, killing 23 people.

So what is going to be done about this so similar accidents don’t happen in the future? Are we going to listen to Jimmy Hoffa and his lies and pompous bullshit about Mexican trucks, or Todd Spencer with his bogus statistics or the Senators and Congressmen who don’t have a clue but nonetheless insist on trying to stop a safe and legal program from continuing?

And speaking of those two clowns, where is the outrage? Where is the demand for accountability? Where is Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen using this tragedy to solicit funds for her organization?

Questions that beg to be answered!

My bet would be we need to look in our own backyard and clean up the crap that permits tragedies such as this from occurring.

What do you think?


Photo Credits

Johnny Hanson: Houston Chronicle
Tony Gutierrez: AP
Stewart F. House: MCT
Chris Jennings: AP & Sherman Herald-Democrat
Dane Schiller: Houston Chronicle
Chris Wilkins: AP