Driver of deadly crash had history of accidents, seizures

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2016 3:35 AM
Driver of deadly crash had history of accidents, seizures

BALTIMORE (AP) — The man who crashed a Baltimore school bus into a transit bus, killing himself and five other people, had been in at least a dozen car accidents in the past five years, had a history of seizures and other medical issues, and recently had his commercial driver's license privileges suspended because of an outdated medical certificate, according to federal transportation investigators.

Glenn Chappell, 67, almost certainly should not have been behind the wheel when he struck the rear of a Ford Mustang on the morning of Nov. 1 and then collided with a Maryland Transportation Authority bus. Apart from the casualties, 11 people suffered injuries in the catastrophic wreck.

For more than a month, those affected wondered what had happened to produce the devastating crash.

On Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a two-page preliminary report that offered answers: Not only had Chappell been speeding, but he had a lengthy history of car accidents as well as medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension and frequent seizures — a combination that likely should have kept him off the road.

But investigators stopped short of placing blame.

No children were on board at the time of the crash. Chappell had been driving the school bus for AAAfordable LLC of Baltimore, which held a contract with Baltimore City Public Schools. According to the school system spokeswoman Edie House-Foster, that contract was terminated Nov. 21.

According to the report, Chappell was going well above the posted speed limit when he slammed into the Mustang: 57 mph in a 30 mph zone. Additionally, Chappell had been in 12 car accidents or incidents in the past five years, either while driving a bus or a personal vehicle.

"I told the police officer I thought he must have been going 60," said Shawn Braxton, who was behind the wheel of the Mustang. Braxton was shocked to learn that Chappell had a history of car crashes, in addition to a well-documented medical condition that made him unfit to drive.

"That's just crazy," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"I'm upset about it, and saddened because he felt the need to continue to drive the bus even though he had a medical condition, and I'm saddened that the bus company kept him hired because he had a medical condition and they should have been monitoring him," he said.

Incident reports referencing Chappell's previous crashes and other problematic issues said Chappell had "seizure-like episodes." Chappell had an actual seizure just one week before the wreck.

Chappell had been driving buses in and around Baltimore since 2008, and began working with AAAfordable in 2014, though he took a brief break from April through August.

At the time of the wreck, Chappell wasn't licensed to drive a school bus. He had failed to submit a certificate certifying that he was in good health to the Maryland Vehicle Administration, and so the agency had begun the process of downgrading his license.

The NTSB is also investigating a school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which six children died and 12 others were admitted to the hospital. The bus was carrying 37 children at the time of the wreck. The driver, Johnthony Walker, has been charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide. Records showed that students had complained about Walker's driving and that he'd been in an accident just two months earlier.

Dr. Stephen Richards, director of the Southeastern Transportation Center at the University of Tennessee, who reviewed the preliminary report, said "it points to a driver medical problem, and one that was a diagnosed and recognized problem, and one that apparently resulted in not one but several accidents or incidents."

Richards said the lack of communication between the MVA and the school system about Chappell's outdated medical certificate could be an area that needs attention.

"If there's lag time before the entire system caught it with that, they may need to look at that and enact some safeguards," he said.

George Bogris, an attorney representing AAAfordable, did not immediately return a call and email seeking comment.

House-Foster in a written statement said the school system is "continuing to work diligently to review and tighten processes and practices involving provision of contracted bus transportation for students.

"The safety of our students, the adults who staff school buses and other drivers and passengers is our top priority," she said.