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Feds: N.C. bus crash investigation that killed 4 from Rock Hill could take months

Four people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, after a charter bus carrying football players from Rock Hill crashed Saturday near Hamlet, N.C. Troopers say a tire blowout caused the crash, which sent more than 40 other people to area hospitals.
Four people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, after a charter bus carrying football players from Rock Hill crashed Saturday near Hamlet, N.C. Troopers say a tire blowout caused the crash, which sent more than 40 other people to area hospitals. The Richmond County Daily Journal

Federal officials are investigating the tires on the bus that crashed Saturday in North Carolina leaving four dead and more than 40 injured, but the investigation could take months.

Federal officials say they are investigating the operating status of the church bus that crashed.

In the crash near Rockingham, N.C., involving the Ramah Juco football team that included dozens of students from Rock Hill’s Clinton College, troopers say one of the bus’ front tires blew. The bus then hit a guard rail before smashing into a bridge.

The bus is owned by Sandy River Baptist Church in Chester, according to federal records from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The bus is listed as a private passenger, non-business operation classification.

Clinton students Devonte Gibson, 21, of Rock Hill, and Tito Hamilton, 19, of Pahokee, Fla., were killed along with an 8-year-old Rock Hill boy, Darice Lamont Hicks Jr., and bus driver Brian Andre Kirkpatrick, 43 of Chester. Kirkpatrick’s family said he was a member of Sandy River Baptist Church.

It remains unclear if the bus was hired to carry the players and others on the bus, or if any other company or group was using the bus. Church officials did not respond to attempts for comment Sunday and Monday about who was using the bus.

The N.C. Highway Patrol is investigating the crash, but the National Transportation Safety Board is also looking at the bus tires, said Keith Holloway, spokesman for the NTSB. The NTSB focuses on safety, Holloway said.

“We are looking at the tires and tire pressure, and to see if there was any tire failure,” Holloway said.

Motor carriers group assisting

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is assisting NTSB and troopers in North Carolina in the investigation, said Duane DeBruyne, spokesman for the carrier administration.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is assisting in the investigation, which will include a thorough review of the carrier’s federal operating authority,” DeBruyne said Monday. “The findings of the FMCSA investigation will be turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board and to state officials who are leading the overall investigation into the crash.”

Bob Garrett of Lancaster, president of the Motorcoach Association of South Carolina board of directors, said he expects a full investigation because for-hire buses and church buses do not have the same requirements for safety, inspection, insurance, and tires. Garrett said church bus operators generally are not allowed to charge riders, Garrett said.

“I would expect the federal motor carriers (investigators) will be all over this,” Garrett said.

Schools react

Hicks, the 8-year-old who died, was remembered Monday by Chris Beard, his principal at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School as a wonderful student.

Darice “left a lasting impact on his teacher, classmates, and our school body,” Beard said in a statement. “His humor, thinking ‘out of the box’ and his bright smile will provide memories that will encourage each of us in the days ahead. His presence made his classroom a brighter place, and he will be missed tremendously. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his parents, sister, and other family members during this tragic time.”

Clinton officials held a student assembly Monday to deal with the traumatized student body after two students died and dozens more were injured.

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