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Prison Bus Wreck Investigation Could Take More Than a Year

Tom Michael

From Marfa Public Radio:

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) said icy roads likely caused last week’s deadly prison bus wreck that killed eight prisoners and two prison guards in West Texas.

But it could be more than a year before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) makes the official call on why the bus with 12 prisoners and three prison guards on board slipped off an I-20 overpass west of Odessa and hit a Union Pacific train passing on the tracks below.

Pete Kotowski – the NTSB’s Investigator-in-Charge – said last Thursday his team expects to be on site for about a week. They’ll be looking at factors that could’ve contributed to the accident, ranging from the condition of the highway and the vehicle itself to any possible human factors that could have caused the crash.

Kotowski said a final report on the wreck could take anywhere from 12 to 16 months to complete.

In the meantime, NTSB expects to release a preliminary report on the accident in about 10 days, but Kotowski said that report won’t have any hard conclusions.

“Nothing but factual information that we’ve been able to substantiate,” he said.

Authorities released the names of the 15 people killed and injured in the crash on Thursday.

Among the dead were two longtime state correctional officers.

All the prisoners on board had recently been sentenced and were being transferred from Abilene to a prison in El Paso.

Last Thursday, the state criminal justice department gave more details about the prisoners. Some of them were repeat offenders, but for most, it was their first time being sentenced to state prison.

Their sentences range from one year up to one sentence for 25 years for 22-year-old Damien Rodriguez, convicted of aggravated robbery in Midland County.

“They are people that basically have what we call property crime convictions,” said Robert Hurst with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

The bus was not equipped with seat belts for the twelve prisoners on board, although seat belts were available for the three guards.

DPS Spokesperson Sergeant Elizabeth Barney said with buses like the one involved in the crash, state law doesn’t require seat belts for anyone but the driver.

Kotowski suggested it would be an oversimplification to say the prisoners would’ve been safe if they were wearing seat belts.

“There’s more to just thinking about putting a seat belt in a vehicle that’s gonna make a vehicle safe,” he said. “Part of that is not just in seat belts, but it’s in the area around them – that it remains intact.”

Correctional Officers Christopher Davis and Eligio Garcia were the two prison guards killed. Both had been with the criminal justice department for more than 15 years. Both were wearing seat belts.

Authorities still haven’t identified who was driving the bus.

The surviving prison guard – Jason Self – remained in critical condition at a Lubbock hospital on Friday, while the four surviving prisoners remained at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. Prisoner Remigio Pineda’s condition was upgraded to fair Friday morning, while the three others remained in critical condition.

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