Antifreeze leaks were reported on at least two Thomas MVP rear-engine school buses prior to a May incident on the same model bus that sent one Union County middle school student to the hospital and injured three others.
A student from Porter Ridge Middle School suffered third-degree burns on her legs and feet when hot antifreeze leaks into the school bus she was riding home in on May 11, 2015.
Subsequent inspections of the bus have revealed the leak was caused by a faulty plastic part that connected a hose that carried hot antifreeze through the bus.
An On Your Side investigation found state school transportation leaders issued a safety memo in September 2013 that warned about a faulty plastic part used on Thomas MVP rear-engine buses that could fail and spew hot antifreeze into the school bus.
The memo urged school districts to replace the plastic part with a metal part.
Union County Public Schools has not said why it did not heed the warning in the state’s safety memo to replace the part, which costs roughly $2.50 per part to replace.
New records obtained by On Your Side Investigates show antifreeze leaks had been reported on at least two other Thomas MVP rear-engine school buses prior to the May 2015 leak.
The first leak was repaired on Bus 114 by mechanics for the school district’s contractor during annual maintenance in December 2012. The second leak was reported on Bus 1270 each day between January 26-30, 2015. Inspection and maintenance records provided by UCPS did not list the cause of the leaks.
A spokeswoman for Union County Public Schools said the leaks were not related to problems with the faulty plastic connections but could not provide details about what did cause the leaks. The spokeswoman did say the 2015 leaks on Bus 1270 were caused by unspecified issues with a fan.
Attorney William Goldfarb represents the student who was injured in the May 2015 leak. He has filed a state tort claim against Union County Public Schools and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“If Union County actually had these problems prior to this, then it really makes you wonder what’s going on and why it happened,” Goldfarb said. “Their job is not just to get the buses running but running safely and protect the children.”
An attorney representing UCPS and NCDPI filed a response to the complaint filed by Goldfarb denying responsibility for the leak.
Less than a week after the May 2015 incident, NCDPI transportation officials issued a new safety memo requiring all school districts operating Thomas MVP rear-engine buses to submit proof that they had replaced the faulty plastic parts no later than August 1. A DPI spokesman said Union County had met the August 1 deadline to replace the parts.
“I think it took this incident to get everybody to say ‘whoa, let’s actually fix it’ when in fact, this incident didn’t need to happen to have that same reaction anyway,” attorney Goldfarb said.