A four-month investigation into the crash near Pauls Valley found no conclusive evidence that the bus driver acted improperly or that safety violations on the bus contributed to the accident, Lt. Ronnie Hampton, troop commander for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol investigations division, said Wednesday.
“We did find mechanical violations on the bus that were in place prior to the crash, but we don't feel like those violations caused or contributed to the crash,” Hampton said.
Investigators believe Tony Sims of Wichita, Kan., was driving a Cadillac that pulled in front of the bus, causing it to swerve and roll over.
Troopers initially thought the bus was traveling too fast for the icy road conditions when the driver lost control of the bus, but changed their minds after interviewing witnesses, Hampton said.
The bus was “driving in the right lane at a rate of speed reasonable for the road conditions” when a silver Cadillac passed it at “a high rate of speed for the conditions,” he said.
About six miles down the road, witnesses saw the same car in the median trying to get back on the highway, Hampton said. When it returned to the road, the car began sliding, and the bus driver, Miguel Esqueda, swerved to avoid hitting the car.
“In our opinion, he caused the bus to take evasive action,” Hampton said.
A 28-year-old woman and an 8-year-old boy were killed.
Sims allegedly fled the accident scene, but witnesses recorded his license plate number.
Jose Gonzalez, an attorney representing 35 of the passengers on board the bus, said the findings don't excuse the Texas-based company, Autobuses El Conejo, from being held responsible.
“The facts are still the facts,” Gonzalez said. “He (driver) shouldn't have been on the road in the first place.”
Gonzalez said the driver asked for permission to stop until the weather improved, but the company insisted he continue.
Several passengers complained that the bus heater was broken, and the driver was having trouble keeping ice from forming on the windshield, Gonzalez said.
Prosecutors should get the report by Monday, Hampton said.