School bus that went missing for hours owned by company with alarming safety record

Updated: September 16, 2019 06:26 PM

The school bus company that refused to cooperate with investigators after a bus with elementary school students disappeared for several hours earlier this month has a troubling safety record that includes untrained drivers and dozens of failed inspections, according to records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.

Pride Transportation has refused to comment on the Sept. 4 incident that sparked a frantic search for a little girl who had been reported missing when her bus failed to drop her off after school. During that search, Champlin police say employees with the bus company hung up on investigators, refused to identify the driver and provided misleading information regarding the location of the missing bus.

The bus driver later told police he got lost on his first day. No one from the company was cited or charged, and police do not believe any children were harmed during the three hours the bus was missing.

Champlin girl missing for hours after school bus driver gets lost

However, state records show the company has compiled an alarming record of safety violations since it began operating in 2016.

The company, which contracts with at least five schools, has had more than 40 buses pulled out of service for issues such as bad brakes and inoperable safety equipment like stop arms and emergency exit doors.

Multiple attempts to the contact the company for comment on these findings were unsuccessful.

In all, Pride Transportation has failed nearly 60 percent of the inspections conducted by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, according to records analyzed by 5 INVESTIGATES.

By comparison, the average failure rate for school bus companies in the state is only  10 percent, according to Lt. Brian Reu with the State Patrol.

"It's concerning every time we see inspection results that drastic," Reu said.

Reu says the results are especially concerning since companies are notified 30 days before any scheduled inspection.

"When you know we're coming and we're giving you the days, most carriers put a lot of effort and take pride in their fleet and in their operation job that they're doing to transport students," he said. 

State records show Pride Transportation has also put unqualified drivers behind the wheel of its school buses. A State Patrol audit in May found "none of the employees training files was complete" as required by state law.

One driver did not even have a valid background check conducted.

"There's nothing indicating they're changing the way they're operating," Reu said. "Which is what gets frustrating for us."

Yet, despite Pride Transportation's repeated failures, the company will be allowed to continue to operate as long as it submits signed documentation assuring the state that the safety issues have been fixed.

While commercial bus companies are regulated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and can be shut down for repeated safety violations, Reu says the State Patrol does not have such authority.

"We are limited to what we can do statutorily," he said.  "If the legislatures, the lawmakers want to pursue any changes that certainly is one avenue to look at."

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Joe Augustine

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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