No criminal charges will be filed in the charter bus crash that killed four people and injured more than 40 others traveling with a Rock Hill football team, the N.C. State Highway Patrol announced Wednesday. The church that owned the bus, however, will have to pay civil penalties.
Four people, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed in the Sept. 17 crash on U.S. 74 near Hamlet, N.C. Investigators determined the left front tire on the bus blew out, causing the driver to lose control and sending the bus crashing into a guard rail in the median before slamming into a concrete bridge support.
The bus was carrying the team, made up of students from several schools, from Rock Hill to Fayetteville, N.C., for a football game that night at the University of God’s Chosen. Killed in the crash were the driver, Brian Kirkpatrick, 43; Clinton College students Devonte Gibson, 21, and Tito Hamilton Jr., 19; and 8-year-old Darice Hicks Jr., whose father is one of the team’s coaches.
The Highway Patrol’s announcement came just hours before a Wednesday memorial service in Rock Hill that honored the four victims killed and the dozens of others injured.
“After a thorough and comprehensive review of the collision, investigators have determined that the cause of the collision was contributed (attributed) to tire failure,” Lt. Jeff Gordon, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said in a statement.
The cause of the ruptured tire remains unclear, but Gordon said the tires were not under any kind of recall, were not bald and had ample tread depth.
The Highway Patrol’s motor carrier inspection unit, along with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Motor Carrier Association, conducted a post-crash inspection of the bus and determined several civil penalty violations against Sandy River Baptist Church of Chester, which owned the bus.
Troopers say the church was at fault for:
▪ Failure to have a financial responsibility for a “For Hire” passenger-carrying vehicle
▪ Failure to have an International Fuel Tax Agreement registration
▪ Failure to have the carrier name marked properly on both sides of the vehicle
▪ Failure to have the proper apportioned registration plates
The fines levied against the church for the violations total around $160, Gordon said.
Federal documents show the bus was not registered as a for-hire carrier.
“They’re transporting passengers based on money,” Gordon said. “Anytime there’s any type of exchange of money for transportation, it basically falls into the for-hire category.”
For-hire buses are required to have a higher level of insurance coverage, Gordon said – at least $5 million. If the bus is being used in a private capacity only, the minimum level of coverage required is $1.5 million.
The NTSB investigation, which is ongoing, could take months, officials say.
Rock Hill attorney Joel Hamilton, whose firm is representing some of the people involved in the crash, said the Highway Patrol’s report provides little new information.
“It’s nothing we didn’t know already,” he said. “What it does show is there seems to be some pattern of carelessness in the manner in which this bus was operated. The wealthiest source of information will be the NTSB report as it’s released later on.”
In addition to examining evidence from the crash and eyewitness reports from the scene, Hamilton said his office will examine whether the guard rail performed the way in which it was intended.
“I hope the community continues to rally around this group of kids,” Hamilton said. “As we’ve gotten to know more people involved in this team, I can say the character they’re displaying as individuals and as a group is incredibly inspiring to see how they’re all reacting to this.”