Substitute buses parked after incident

February 13, 2008 3:52:20 PM PST
Another incident involving a Pennsbury school bus may encourage people to re-think the cause of the accident 13 months ago that cost a student her leg.

The Pennsbury school district isn't taking any chances after this latest incident. They have five buses made by the same company and they are now parked and perhaps out of service for good.

"Now after this coincidence we are very concerned about using them again," said Ann Langtry of the Pennsbury School District.

Pennsbury bus number 46 was picking up students at Newtown Friends School on Monday when it suddenly lurched out of control.

The driver was able to stop it before anyone got hurt.

That wasn't the case in January of 2007. Back then, the same kind of school bus accelerated, went out of control and injured 17 students.

Ashley Zauflik was the most seriously injured. She lost a leg and has been learning to walk again with a prosthesis.

The police said they bus driver, John Mcleary, mistakenly hit the gas when he thought he was standing on the brakes.

Zauflik is suing him, the school district and the Thomas-Built bus company.

Her lawyer says this latest incident points to serious design flaws: gas and brake pedals that look the same and could be confusing, and an air pressure line that serves both the brakes and the accelerator.

"It is very unlikely that we have two experienced bus drivers driving substitute buses who were unskillful that they themselves caused the accident," said attorney Thomas Kline.

Bus driver John McCleary maintains he knows the difference between the gas and the brakes.

In a written statement, his lawyer said, "Mr. McCleary has said there was something wrong with his bus since day one... He is blamed for something he had no control over."

The same bus McCleary was driving had a similar incident in 1994 when it was brand new.

Since last year's accident, the school district had been using the Thomas-built buses as spares only. Now, they are parked.

The National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating this latest incident. A lot is riding on their findings, with three open ended possibilities: The drivers are at fault, the buses have a mechanical defect, or a design flaw leads to operator error.