The owner of a bus that exploded and killed 23 people during the Hurricane Rita evacuation was acquitted of one safety violation charge but was convicted on two lesser counts.
James Maples, a former player for the NFLâ€™s Baltimore Colts, was found not guilty Tuesday of conspiring to lie on logbooks so drivers could work longer than federal law allows, but was convicted of poorly maintaining his fleet and not requiring drivers to fill out vehicle inspection reports, the AP reported. His company, Global Limo Inc., which was also on trial, was found guilty on all charges.
The trial stemmed from a federal investigation into a Sept. 23, 2005, Global Limo bus that exploded and burned while stuck in traffic just outside Dallas, killing 23 elderly patients too frail to escape. The patients' oxygen tanks exploded as the flames engulfed the bus. Fourteen people survived. The investigation found the bus fire started when poorly lubricated wheel bearings overheated in the right rear well, igniting a tire.
None of the charges were directly related to the bus fire. Before the trial, the judge ruled that prosecutors failed to allege in their indictment that poor maintenance led to the bus explosion.
Global Limo faces a $500,000 fine on the conspiracy count and a $200,000 fine on each of the two other convictions. Maples faces up to two years in federal prison and a $100,000 fine on each of his two convictions.
Two former Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors testified for the defense that violations noted on 2002 and 2004 safety audits were common and that Maples was still given a satisfactory rating, the agency's highest.
But they testified under cross-examination that Global buses sometimes went on the road despite dangerous problems and that while drivers may have told Maples of problems or noted them on forms, there was no evidence that post-trip inspections were consistently performed.