Records show past problems with company of bus that caught fire on I-85

Traffic on Interstate 85 in Rowan County was backed up after a bus with around 80 people on board caught fire Tuesday morning.
Traffic on Interstate 85 in Rowan County was backed up after a bus with around 80 people on board caught fire Tuesday morning. WBTV

Passengers on a bus that caught fire while passing through Rowan County this morning say they were terrified when they saw flames and everyone tried to get out.

“Panic, panic, people panicked," passenger Clairissa Seabrook said. "When the drivers or whoever they were came back on the bus and said fire, everybody jumped up, they started panicking, grabbing stuff, running, trampling over people, some was jumping out of the bus windows, it was just awful, it was awful.”

Four people were treated for burns and ankle injuries from jumping off of the burning bus, which caught fire on Interstate-85 in Rowan County Tuesday morning.

“There were four injuries at the scene, they were all minor, non life threatening type injuries," Rowan County EMS Director Frank Thomason said on Tuesday afternoon.

"We thought the tire blew and then all of a sudden we saw the smoke," one passenger said. "I mean we weren't just smoking, we had flame flames."

"Some people came through the windows of the bus," a second passenger added. " One guy got burned, the other guy hurt a leg, about ten different people because I were more in the middle of the bus so I ran towards the front."

The incident happened on I-85 southbound at mile marker 79 near Spencer, backing traffic up into Davidson County. Emergency officials originally estimated that there were as many as 80 passengers on board.

The bus was being operated by Yep Tours of Massachusetts and was heading from New York City to Atlanta, with a stop in Charlotte. Passengers said there was panic when the driver said there was a fire. People were trampling over one another in an attempt to get off the bus, witnesses say.

The bus pulled over on the median because of a flat tire and while they were waiting for another bus, passengers started smelling smoke and seeing flames, WBTV was told. That's when the chaos happened, passengers say, after the bus driver yelled there was a fire and to get off the bus.

The fire marshal says they can't find the driver of the bus, saying he left before the fire department arrived. Initially there was a report that the bus driver got on a second Yep bus that stopped at the scene before the fire department arrived, but now troopers say they aren't sure who was driving the bus and that they are getting conflicting stories from Yep personnel and passengers.

"He (the bus driver) got off and got on another bus," another passenger said. "He was gone way before the fire department, yeah, way before that."

The Rowan-Salisbury School system provided two activity buses to take the passengers away from the scene on I-85.

Officials are working to determine exactly what started the fire, but say it came from the area where the flat tire was. Another Yep bus picked up the passengers at a nearby McDonald's and headed to Charlotte.

Records show bus company had problems before

Federal documents show a history of safety issues with the company that operates a bus that caught fire along the interstate in Rowan County Tuesday morning with 80 people on board. Four people were injured.

Records maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show Yep buses have been taken out of service at least 13 times in 2015.

A bus is taken out of service by motor carrier enforcement officers when they find a problem that is considered to be too dangerous for the vehicle to stay on the road. The vehicle can be placed back into service once the problem is fixed.

According to FMCSA records, Yep Tour buses were taken out of service six times this year for having either no emergency exit or defective emergency exits. Two of those citations came in July alone.

The company was cited four times for either missing a fire extinguisher or having one that was discharged or not properly secured. A Yep Tour bus was most recently cited for a fire extinguisher violation on July 2, 2015.

Other violations found on Yep Tour buses include oil and gas leaks and wiring that had no or improper protection.

It is not clear whether the bus involved in Tuesday’s incident on I-85 in Salisbury had been recently cited.

Federal records also show a Yep Tour bus was involved in an accident in North Carolina in August 2014. Records show one person was injured in the crash but it is not clear whether the person injured was a passenger on the bus or someone in another vehicle.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article30684858.html#storylink=cpy