Autopsy results show the bus driver involved in a fatal school bus-freight train collision did not suffer a medical event, the North Dakota Highway Patrol stated as it concluded its investigation into the accident.
On Jan. 5, a school bus traveling near Larimore, North Dakota, was taking students home after school when it stopped on train tracks and was struck by a BNSF train near the front passenger side door, fatally ejecting the bus driver, Max Danner, and a 17-year-old girl, Cassidy Sandstrom. The crash injured 12 students, according to the highway patrol.
The highway patrol stated in a press release that an autopsy performed on Danner by the Grand Forks County Medical Examiner’s Office showed that he died of injuries from the crash. Although Danner had a significant heart condition, that did not contribute to causing the accident.
“There was no evidence that a medical event was occurring at the time of the crash,” said Dr. Mark Koponen, deputy coroner at the Grand Forks County Coroner's Office.
Video footage recorded at the front of the BNSF locomotive showed significant braking just before the bus approached the tracks. The driver appeared to be in an upright position and there was no movement observed inside the front end of the school bus, according to the press release.
Lt. Troy Hischer confirmed to SBF that the footage shows Danner sitting upright in his seat. He added that the highway patrol interviewed all the students aboard the bus at the time of the accident, and their accounts support the investigation results.
Previous news stories that reported that Danner was slumped over in his seat at the time of the crash were based on a Facebook email, and were not a part of the highway patrol’s investigation, Hischer said.
“We cannot substantiate anything about the driver being slumped over or having a medical event. In fact, in the autopsy, there was no medical event. That story did not originate from us,” he explained.
Hischer added that the highway patrol believes Sandstrom, the student who was killed in the collision, was seated in the back seat on the passenger side of the bus at the time of the incident.
Additionally, the investigation indicated that there were no issues with the train's speed or signaling of its arrival, and the bus had no mechanical problems.
The BNSF train was traveling 43 mph at the time of the crash, below the speed limit of 60 mph on that section of the railroad tracks, according to the press release. The train’s whistle was blown approximately 1,300 feet before reaching the intersection and several times as it approached the intersection. The bus came to a stop with its front end over the tracks and rested there about two seconds before being struck by the train.
A download of the bus’ engine control module and a post-crash inspection of the bus showed no mechanical deficiencies. The equipment was in good condition, working properly and well-maintained, according to the highway patrol.
Additionally, witnesses stated the bus was driving normally through the neighborhood before the collision occurred.
There are no anticipated criminal charges in the accident, according to the highway patrol.