Local charter bus company gets shut down for violations

Local charter bus company gets shut down for violations

PORTLAND, Ore. – Whether it's putting kids on a charter bus booked for a school field trip or adults bound for a resort, casino or sightseeing, a lot of faith is put in the stranger at the wheel and the strangers who own the company.

On Your Side Investigator Dan Tilkin looks at who's watching those doing the driving after a charter bus crash killed nine people Sunday in Eastern Oregon.

A local charter company that just got shut down is a good example. The company was trusted to take kids to the mountains for skiing, to take them for trips to the other end of the state and even across the country. That's until it was caught fudging its records.

In mid-August a group of Oregon student musicians returned triumphant from a national competition, but on the trip home one of their charter buses was stopped in Wyoming. Federal records say one of the drivers was cited for a "log violation," which shows how long they'd been driving.

The incident happened weeks after another driver, Robin Reed, had already quit the company because he had safety concerns.

"I was told that there might be occasion when I’m asked to drive longer than I should and that if I wanted the work and the hours, that's the way it went," he said.

Reed said he became a witness against Noah's Ark Charter Service, which is based in Woodland, Wash. in Cowlitz County.

The company is owned by Pat and Noah Wessinger, who also had the contract to drive students from the deaf and blind schools in Vancouver, Wash. on cross-state trips to their homes. And for a time, Noah's Ark also had the contract for the Portland Winterhawks hockey team.

But just weeks ago the company was put "under an out of service order" and was told it "may not operate" by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The feds accused Noah's Ark of "serious violations," including: "false reports of records" in regards to how long and often its drivers had been on the road.

Reed said Noah's Ark was caught through a random inspection. He was afraid to come forward on his own.

"There was a lot of people who knew that they were doing wrong, but they had kids to feed," Reed said.

KATU attempted in person and by phone to reach the Wessingers without success.

Reed said his bad experience at their company is the exception in the industry.

"The majority of the companies – safety does come first," he said.

Federal regulators won't comment on the case, including on whether Noah's Ark will be allowed to be in business again in the future.

The bus in Sunday's fatal wreck in Eastern Oregon is owned by Mi Joo travel, a British Columbia company. Authorities are still investigating what happened in that crash.