12/22/2014

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KATU Investigators

District: School bus driver should've stopped while antifreeze leaked

District: School bus driver should've stopped while antifreeze leaked

GRESHAM, Ore. – The driver of a school bus with children onboard was wrong not to stop the bus when antifreeze began leaking in that bus Wednesday morning, according to the Gresham-Barlow School District.

The antifreeze burned the children and released strong vapors.

The driver kept driving instead of pulling over and doing an emergency evacuation of the bus. The engine is in the back of the bus.

KATU first reported this story Thursday night.

Fifth-graders Lillian Miller and her brother, Adrian, told KATU it was the scariest moment of their lives. They were sitting in the back of the bus and remember seeing the red liquid in the aisle, and what was likely steam, they thought was smoke. And they thought seats were about to catch fire.

Despite the children feeling the burn on their feet and screaming, they say the bus driver kept going despite their pleas to stop until they reached Kelly Creek Elementary School in Gresham about a mile and a half after the children got onboard.

"Oh my gosh, they were so scary," said Lillian. "There (were so many) kids crying, we couldn't really breathe. And there was one kid who had his head out the window, because we couldn't breathe fresh air."

KATU wanted to speak to someone at the Gresham office of First Student Transportation, but a company spokesman in Ohio called instead.

While the school district said the driver was wrong to keep driving, the bus company took a lighter stance Friday.

"What we know at this point is the driver was able to identify the leak while nearing the conclusion of the route and acted to deliver the kids safely to school. Anything further details are currently under investigation," said spokesman Maurice Harris.

The spokesman said he couldn't answer were the leak came from or how long the driver drove with the leak happening.

The children's mother said the children realized something was wrong not long after they got on the bus. She said the bus driver made several stops to pick up other children even though there was a leak.

Neither the bus company nor the district could confirm Friday the children’s version of what happened, saying it's under investigation.

They also said they can't say whether the antifreeze came from the engine or a heating system inside the passenger cabin.

There have been news stories across the country about heating coils leaking that are used to warm the passenger area. Those coils are full of antifreeze.

The spokesman said the bus driver has been taken off the route, but he's still driving a bus on another route in the Gresham-Barlow School District.

KATU has asked to see the video recorded on the bus to determine how long the incident went on, but Harris said the bus company won't release it because it is still investigating.

The children's mother told KATU on Friday that she is satisfied with how the district is handling this.

Buses aren't pulled out of service very often. Comparing the 14 buses pulled from service in Gresham-Barlow to a couple other districts shows that in 2011 and 2012, 16 buses were pulled from service in Beaverton and 12 from Canby.

But a recent On Your Side Investigation revealed state inspectors only look at one in five buses across the state.

For a district by district list of inspections – go here.

We first started looking into this story after getting a news tip. You can email our investigative team directly, at investigators@katu.com.

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