Lawsuit filed in fatal Baltimore school bus crash

A lawsuit seeking more than $10 million has been filed on behalf of the victims of a deadly bus crash last fall in Southwest Baltimore, contending that a school bus driver was wrongly cleared to work despite previous crashes and health problems.

The lawsuit alleges that Texas-based health care giant Concentra, which provides commercial driver certifications, overlooked multiple seizures suffered by bus driver Glenn Chappell, 67, when it cleared him to drive. That history of seizures, as well as of diabetes and hypertension, should have disqualified him from operating a commercial vehicle under state and federal law, federal investigators have said.

One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Kerry Staton, described Chappell as a "ticking time bomb."

"If this guy gets certified, it seems to us that anybody can get certified," said Hassan Murphy, whose firm, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, is handling the case along with Staton's firm, Schochor, Federico & Staton.

The lawsuit also names Chappell's employer, AAAfordable Transportation, and its owners and operators, Tracy and Aliyu Dabo.

Concentra declined to comment on the accusations, citing the lawsuit and the continuing investigation by the the National Transportation Safety Board, but said it extended its "deepest condolences to the families of those who were lost or injured in the tragic bus accident."

AAAfordable Transportation did not return a call seeking comment.

The crash occurred Nov. 1, when a school bus driven by Chappell rear-ended a Ford Mustang before crossing into oncoming traffic and striking a Maryland Transit Administration bus. The driver and four passengers on the MTA bus were killed, as was Chappell.

Another 11 people were injured, including passengers on the MTA bus, a teacher's 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.

Antwan Baker is one of the plaintiffs. His wife, Ebonee, was the driver of the MTA bus. She died on the scene.

"I lost my wife, my best friend. My kids lost their mom," he said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. "We'll never be the same."

Michelle Kennedy recalled sitting on the MTA bus, chatting with a woman she saw each morning. Her next recollection is waking up outside the bus in a pile of glass. Murphy said she suffered a brain injury and experiences post-traumatic stress disorder. Kennedy said she experiences terrible headaches and nightmares.

"It's just been really terrible for me and my kids. They wonder why Mommy [is] crying," she said. "I'm in so much pain sometimes that it's ridiculous."

In addition to Baker, those killed include 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, husband and father; and Pattie Lynn Martinez, 46, a homeless woman.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for the victims of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported last month that Baltimore school officials had been alerted for years to crashes involving Chappell and to criminal charges against him, yet did not disqualify him from transporting students. The investigators identified several "deficiencies" in the way Baltimore and Maryland school officials vet school bus operators, and they urged reforms.

Doctors had repeatedly cleared Chappell to drive, under a federal system designed to keep drivers with certain risky health conditions from operating passenger vehicles. Drivers are required to sign documents under penalty of perjury that detail their medical histories before they undergo health exams at least once every two years.

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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