Safety

NTSB Report: Driver Had Medical Problems Before Iowa School Bus Fire

Nicole Schlosser
Posted on May 16, 2019
The driver who was involved in a fatal school bus fire in Iowa had trouble walking, as well as other medical issues, according to documents released by the NTSB. Photo courtesy Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office
The driver who was involved in a fatal school bus fire in Iowa had trouble walking, as well as other medical issues, according to documents released by the NTSB. Photo courtesy Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The driver who was involved in a fatal school bus fire in Iowa had trouble walking, as well as other medical issues, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The NTSB plans to meet next month to determine the probable cause of the fire, and recently released information revealing that the school bus driver, Donald Hendricks, 74, had back pain, difficulty sleeping, and had a history of high blood pressure and cholesterol and diabetes.

As SBF previously reported, Hendricks and student Megan Klindt, 16, died in the Dec. 12, 2017 school bus fire in a rural area near the small town of Oakland. Hendricks and Klindt were the only two occupants of the bus at the time.

According to a preliminary report released by the NTSB in January 2018, Hendricks was driving a 2004 International Type C school bus owned and operated by Riverside Community School District. Around 6:50 a.m., he turned right from a gravel road onto a driveway to pick up Klindt at the farm where she lived.

As Hendricks backed the bus out of the driveway, its right dual rear wheels crossed an earthen strip next to the road and dropped into a 3-foot-deep ditch. The wheels lost traction, and the bus became stuck, with about half of it sticking out across the gravel road, according to the NTSB’s report. As Hendricks tried to move the bus forward out of the ditch, a fire broke out in the engine compartment and spread into the passenger compartment. At some point, grass and vegetation near the back of the bus also caught fire.

The Iowa Office of the State Medical Examiner determined that Hendricks and Klindt died from “smoke and soot inhalation and thermal injuries.”

As SBF reported in January 2018, it was unclear why Hendricks and Klindt didn’t exit the bus.

However, regarding Hendricks, a medical report from the NTSB indicates that he had a history of medical issues leading up to the fire, including recurring back pain due to degenerative disc disease. He had reported a month before the accident that he had back pain and couldn’t walk without using a walker or crutches, and was “sleeping less than 4 hours at a time,” according to the report. A neurosurgeon recommended surgery, since Hendricks was apparently “reaching the point where he was having difficulty performing activities of daily living.” A surgery had been scheduled for two days after the accident occurred, the medical report states.

The report did note that Hendricks was found to be qualified for a commercial driver's license on an exam dated March 6, 2017, and that the certificate was valid for two years.

The NTSB will hold a board meeting to determine the cause of the fire on June 18 at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time (EDT). A link to the webcast will be available shortly before the start of the meeting here.

Related Topics: bus fires, fatalities, Iowa, NTSB

Nicole Schlosser Executive Editor
Comments ( 3 )
  • Eric

     | about 21 hours ago

    I know this story is not associated with either First Student or Durham School Services, but I have to say, the one proactive thing that First Student did that I really thought was a good idea was their PPDT (Physical Performance and Dexterity) tests. In this they developed a more strict standard for their driver's than even the state of Iowa mandated, and was designed to ensure the physical capabilities of those responsible for rescuing/saving their passengers in the event of an emergency. Durham School Services has nothing like this, and only falls back on DOT physicals and cursory driver evaluations that don't take physical capability into consideration.

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