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Baltimore school officials end contract with bus company in deadly crash

Surveillance video of the Mustang and school bus before the crash on Frederick Avenue. (Baltimore Sun video)

The city school system has terminated its contract with the West Baltimore company that operated a bus involved in the crash this month that killed six people and injured 11 others.

Schools spokeswoman Edie House Foster said the district ended its contract with AAAfordable Transportation Inc. on Monday. The company has drawn scrutiny since one of its buses careened into oncoming traffic on Frederick Avenue early Nov. 1.

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"Based on the totality of the circumstances, City Schools felt it most appropriate to terminate the relationship," House Foster said in a statement.

AAAfordable owner Mark Williams declined to comment Monday afternoon.

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AAAfordable was one of seven private companies contracted to transport students in Baltimore. The six others continue to work with the school system, House Foster said.

Police are exploring whether the school bus driver, 67-year-old Glenn Chappell, suffered a medical emergency while driving on Frederick Avenue in Irvington. His bus rear-ended a Ford Mustang, veered into oncoming traffic, then crashed into a Maryland Transit Administration bus.

Chappell, the MTA driver and four passengers on the MTA bus were killed.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration revoked Chappell's commercial driving privileges two months ago because he failed to provide the agency with the necessary health certificate, state officials said.

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Baltimore school officials showed The Baltimore Sun a medical examiner's certificate that declared Chappell was qualified to drive. The certificate was dated June 20, 2016, and valid for one year. An attorney for AAAfordable, George Bogris, has said the company held a current certificate for Chappell.

Still, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said, the discrepancy raised too many unanswered questions about the company and its driver. She had called publicly for the school system to end the contract.

"I don't know all the factors that went into their decision, but I think it's the right thing to do," she said, "just for the families to feel secure for their children to be safely transported."

The remaining bus companies will take over the routes of AAAfordable, House Foster said. Clarke said she hopes any new drivers will be thoroughly vetted.

AAAfordable was contracted to transport students in five buses. The contract signed in early 2013 was to last until June 2018, or when the budgeted $4.3 million was spent.

AAAfordable had a clean federal safety record the past two years. One of its buses was in a crash four years ago.

With 17 buses and drivers, the company logged 153,150 miles in 2015, mostly within Maryland, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records.

Federal records show AAAfordable has operated its fleet the past two years without a crash with injury or requiring a bus to be towed.

In 2012, one company bus carrying the National Academy Foundation's high school girls soccer team to an afternoon game at Polytechnic Institute crashed into a minivan. At least 13 people were hurt.

The school bus in this month's crash passed an inspection in April, according to school records. Federal investigators said they inspected the bus after the wreck and found no mechanical problems.

The severity of the crash brought the federal investigators to Baltimore.

Police have said they found no indication Chappell applied the school bus brakes before the collision, and they have no reason to suspect that Chappell intentionally rammed the MTA bus. They have said the school bus was speeding.

Chappell was driving a Buick LeSabre in Ellicott City in 2014 when he crossed a median into oncoming traffic and hit a guardrail, another median and trees, according to a Howard County police accident report. His wife told police at the time that he was taking medications for seizures.

After the deadly wreck this month, witnesses described mangled buses, trapped passengers and cries for help. One MTA passenger said she woke to find glass in her mouth and two bodies lying on top of her.

Killed in the crash were Chappell; the MTA bus driver, Ebonee Baker, 33, a mother of four children and three stepchildren; Cherry Yarborough, 51, a secretary at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Gerald Holloway, 51, a maintenance worker at Forest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation; Terrance Casey, 52, a former volunteer minister and a husband and father; and Pattie Lynn Martinez, 46, who was homeless but had worked in construction.

Separately Monday in Chattanooga, Tenn., six people were killed when a school bus with 35 young children aboard crashed, turned on its side and wrapped around a tree, according to the district attorney.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the crash "a tragic event" and offered assistance.

Police were interviewing the bus driver to determine what happened.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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