Driver in fatal Baltimore bus crash had history of crashes, seizures, NTSB report says

The school bus driver in last month's fatal crash had a history of seizures, the NTSB reports.

The school bus driver involved in the Southwest Baltimore crash last month in which six people died had a history of seizures and had been involved in at least 12 crashes in the past five years, according to an incident report released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The driver, Glenn Chappell, 67, experienced "seizure-like episodes" in a number of those crashes, the NTSB said. He experienced a medical emergency that witnesses described as a seizure just one week before the crash, prompting paramedics to be called to his employer, AAAfordable Transportation. The company was under contract with Baltimore's public school system to transport students with special needs.

Chappell was among the six who died in the collision with an MTA bus on the morning of Nov. 1 in the 3800 block of Frederick Ave. in Irvington. His family could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Executives at AAAfordable also could not be reached for comment. George Bogris, a lawyer representing the company, declined to comment on the report.

Baltimore school officials said in a statement that the district "is continuing to work diligently to review and tighten processes and practices involving provision of contracted bus transportation for students."

They declined further comment, citing "impending litigation related to the accident."

The school system terminated its contract with AAAfordable three weeks after the crash.

Chappell had a history of hypertension, diabetes and seizures, the NTSB said. All three of those conditions could disqualify a person from operating a commercial motor vehicle under state and federal law. The laws require anyone driving a vehicle that carries 16 or more passengers hold a medical certificate showing they are in good health.

Doctors can grant waivers to issue certificates for drivers who have high blood pressure or diabetes if those conditions are under control, but would not grant a person with a history of seizures a certificate unless they had not suffered one for a decade or more and did not take anti-seizure medication, according to regulations.

Chappell had received a medical certificate in June and provided it to Baltimore school officials but did not share it with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, prompting that agency to take away his commercial driving privileges.

The MVA had no record of any of Chappell's health conditions, spokesman Chuck Brown said. In seven documents the MVA has on file, Chappell "consistently indicated that he did not have a reportable medical condition," he said.

Medical conditions the MVA must be made aware of include epilepsy, seizures and diabetes that has caused a low blood sugar episode that required assistance from another person within the past six months.

Chappell signed those documents under penalty of perjury.

"Neither Mr. Chappell, his employer, AAAfordable, or law enforcement notified the MVA of any medical condition that may impact his ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle," Brown said.

Brown said Chappell also had no points on his license. The MVA would not have been aware of any crashes he was involved in unless they resulted in traffic citations.

Court records show a handful of cases involving Chappell and driving issues. Chappell pleaded guilty in 2014 to failing to show a registration card when a police officer asked to see it and in 2015 to driving a vehicle with a suspended registration. He also settled a lawsuit in 2010 in which another driver said Chappell tried to make a left-hand turn in front of him, and he had to pay $2,400 a civil case over hitting a parked car in 2008.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said the NTSB report Wednesday made her "very concerned" about how the city school system clears bus drivers for duty.

"We entrust the lives of our children to these public servants so we need to make sure they are up to the task," she said in a statement. "My thoughts remain with the families of those involved and on the corrective actions to be taken to ensure traffic safety on our roads."

The school bus was traveling about 57 mph in a 30-mph zone when it hit a slow-moving Ford Mustang near Frederick and Monastery avenues, and it continued more than 800 feet down Frederick Avenue before striking the MTA transit bus, which was going the other way about 39 mph, the NTSB said.

The crash killed both drivers and four passengers on the MTA bus. Another 11 people were injured, including passengers on the MTA bus, a teacher aide on the school bus and the driver of the Ford Mustang. No students were on the school bus at the time of the crash.

The aide aboard the school bus told investigators that Chappell did not respond to the aide's questions after hitting the Mustang and before colliding with the MTA bus, the NTSB said.

Surveillance video aboard the transit bus captured the crash, the NTSB said.

Neither driver was using a cellphone when the crash happened just after 7 a.m., and both had been driving less than three hours beforehand, the NTSB said. Mechanical inspections showed neither bus had any mechanical defects.

The cause of the collision remains under investigation by Baltimore police and the NTSB, which could take as long as 12 to 18 months to issue its final determination. In the meantime, the NTSB could release additional information or issue recommendations as a result of its findings to local, state or federal authorities.

Martha W. Holloway, 75, the mother of Gerald Holloway, one of the MTA bus passengers who died in the crash, said she couldn't understand why Chappell's medical conditions didn't preclude him from driving the school bus.

"I don't know why they let him drive if they knew he had a seizure," she said. "They shouldn't have."

Holloway, who lives in Beech Island, S.C., said she has hired an attorney, but did not elaborate on any legal plans.

The ordeal has been incredibly painful for her, she said, and she is taking solace in her faith.

"I don't question God's work," Holloway said. "He's in God's hands now."

Baltimore Sun reporter Erica L. Green contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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