Investigation Continues After Texas Prison Bus Crash Kills 10

by Jana Ritter - Published: 1/16/2015

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the Texas prison bus crash that killed eight inmates and two guards on Wednesday. They returned to the scene Thursday, (just west of Odessa), to continue to surmise the debris and examine the Department of Criminal Justice bus that skidded on an icy overpass, slid down the embankment and tragically collided with a passing Union Pacific freight train.

Texas Prison Bus Crash

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The bus was taking the inmates from the Middleton prison in Abilene to the Sanchez prison in El Paso, approximately 250 miles west of where the accident occurred. Eight prisoners and two veteran prison department officers (one being the driver) were killed and a corrections officer and four other inmates were hospitalized.

The bus was left as a crumpled mass and packages from the train were scattered along the railroad tracks. "It's as bad as you can imagine," said Odessa Fire and Rescue Chief Kavin Tinney. "In 32 years, it's as bad as anything I've seen."

While the National Transportation Safety Board and Texas Department of Public Safety officials continue their investigation, the state prison system has made a public statement assuring that the bus was new and had been placed in service just last summer. An earlier accident on the I-20 overpass may have contributed to the prison bus losing control, and the fact that the road had been slick with ice.

But regardless of the condition of the bus or the road, the incident has raised the issue about the safety conditions of transporting prisoners. As with the case in this situation, the prisoners did not have seat belts with the bench style seating and they were handcuffed together in pairs – two factors immediately putting them more at risk.Many of the prisoners were immediately ejected from the bus after it struck the train, according to Trooper Elizabeth Barney of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Although they may be convicted criminals, the inmates on this particular bus were serving sentences for crimes that ranged from labeling unauthorized recordings to drug possession charges – hardly enough to justify putting their lives at more risk by denying them seatbelts that the law makes mandatory for the rest of us. In June, another inmate was killed and several other people were injured in Central Texas when a Department of Criminal Justice van collided with a car.

No Union Pacific employees were injured, but two containers at the back of the train were damaged and caused the hundreds of parcels to drop along the trackside.