NTSB holds school district accountable for 2017 fatal school bus fire

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOWT) -- The local school district did not ensure the 74-year-old driver of the school bus involved in a fatal fire in Oakland, Iowa, in 2017 was "physically fit," the NTSB said in a meeting Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded Tuesday that while school bus driver Donald Hendricks' back conditions and pain didn't impair his ability to drive the bus, it did impair his ability to evacuate the school bus in an emergency situation.

Last month, the NTSB released documents indicating Hendricks had a history of medical issues leading up to the Dec. 17, 2017, crash. He and 16-year-old Megan Klindt both died in the fire that ignited in the engine compartment after the bus backed into a ditch and became stuck.

The school principal and the district's transportation supervisor knew about the driver's medical condition but didn't ask for an exam, the NTSB said.

This is not about discrimination but about "keeping people not medically fit from driving a school bus full of children," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said Tuesday.

The chairman requested the Riverside Community School District in Iowa be named in the probable cause portion of the final report; the board approved.

Sumwalt said he wanted to send a message to all school districts, and won't only blame the last person who made a mistake.

The NTSB ruled out drugs and alcohol, fatigue, driver's licensing and experience as well as the condition of the bus as factors in the crash and deadly fire.

Tuesday afternoon, Riverside School District Superintendent Timothy Mitchell issued a response to the NTSB findings.

"The Riverside School District appreciates the work of the National Transportation Board (NTSB) in this matter. The district has fully cooperated in the investigation. Our top priority is the safety of our students and staff," Mitchell said.

Gray Washington News Bureau reporter David Ade contributed to this story.