NTSB Questions Roof, Other Problems on Tour Bus

OCTOBER 13, 2004 - Posted at 1:13 p.m. CDT

WEST MEMPHIS, AR - Federal investigators said today that the roof of a tour bus involved in a weekend crash that killed 14 and injured 16 had been covered over with 600 to 700 pounds of aluminum.

Officials still have not determined a cause for the accident.

Lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board Gary Van Etten says the bus manufacturer does not know why the vehicle was retrofitted.

Investigators have said 29 of the 30 people on the bus were ejected when the roof largely peeled away during the crash.  The bus went off Interstate-55 in northern Crittenden County and rolled over.

Sections of the roof will be sent to the NTSB's Washington headquarters for further investigation.

Also, investigators also found cracks in the frame rails of the bus that they believe existed before the wreck.  The cracks would have prevented the bus from passing an inspection.

Van Etten said the bus stopped about eleven miles north of the accident site and that some passengers recalled that the driver had gotten food that he took on the bus.

The bus successfully negotiated a sweeping curve two miles from the accident site.

Van Etten says there were skid marks near the crash site from the rear wheels of the bus, indicating the front wheels were already off the highway.

After the bus left the road, it swung around to the driver's left, about 140 feet.  It then rolled over on its left side and went 30 feet to a drainage ditch.

Officials are waiting for results of blood tests from the autopsy of the driver, 67-year-old Herbert Walters.

Van Etten said Walters was thrown from the bus and was not wearing a seat belt even though drivers are required to wear seat belts.  Walters also kept incomplete log books that date to April.

NTSB investigators in Chicago are interviewing Walters' friends and family and plan to subpeona his medical records.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)