ST. LOUIS • Megabus officials said Friday they are working with state and federal investigators to determine whether all safety protocols were followed on a St. Louis-bound bus that apparently blew a tire and crashed into a bridge pier at Litchfield, Ill., killing a woman and leaving more than four dozen people injured.
The blue double-decker vehicle, built in 2011, passed a full preventive maintenance check less than a week ago, company spokesman Ronald Hauser said. He would not say whether the driver performed an inspection before leaving Chicago Thursday morning, Such an inspection is required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of all commercial interstate drivers.
Megabus, which reported more than 5.7 million passengers over 100,000 trips in 2011, is best known for its promotional $1 fares, and for loading passengers at curbside stops instead of depots.
In a statement, the company said its safety standards are stricter than federal regulations. It also said each bus has tire-monitoring technology that provides an alert if pressure changes, helping prevent blowouts.
Some low-cost bus lines have been targeted by regulators for their safety practices.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation shut down 26 bus companies operating along the Northeast after declaring them “imminent hazards to public safety.” Megabus was not among them.
Thursday’s was the fifth fatal accident for Megabus in the past two years, according to the Safety Administration. Greyhound, which averages 25 million passengers and 4.7 million trips annually, has also had five crashes resulting in a death.
In February, a Megabus driver was acquitted of homicide charges for the deaths of four passengers when his double-decker bus crashed into a low overpass in upstate New York in September 2010.
According to the Safety Administration, Megabus drivers were cited for speeding 35 times in the past two years, including 14 instances in which the driver was traveling more than 15 mph over the speed limit. In the same period, a driver was cited for failure to inspect or use emergency equipment, six buses were cited for no or defective emergency doors and more than 50 citations were issued for failure to properly log a driver’s time on duty.
Ryan Zehl, a lawyer in Houston who specializes in bus and truck accidents, said federal regulations on bus companies that don’t use depots need to be tightened. “Curbside carriers,” as he called them, are able to skirt mid-route inspections because they don’t have regular facilities in their destination cities.
“You’re putting these riders’ lives at risk,” he said.
In the Litchfield incident, the bus had 72 passengers and two drivers aboard when it ran off Interstate 55 about 60 miles northeast of St. Louis and hit the concrete support in the middle of the median about 1:20 p.m. Thursday.
Erik Shaw, heading home to O’Fallon, Ill., from work in Pontiac, Ill., told the Post-Dispatch he was passing the bus when its left front tire exploded, shooting rubber bits and pieces of the wheel well at the right side of his car like shrapnel. He said the bus then passed behind him and ran off to the left, through the grass.
Megabus said it was headed from Chicago to Kansas City, with stops in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo.
As of late Friday, about a dozen passengers remained in hospitals from St. Louis to Springfield. The driver of the bus, whose name was not released, underwent surgery and is expected to recover from his injuries.
Illinois State Police Lt. Louis Kink said Friday that 47 passengers were taken from the scene to hospitals and several others were treated for minor injuries on the scene.
Aditi Avhad, 25, the passenger who was killed, was a graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia. School officials said she was admitted to the health administration graduate program in 2011, maintained a 4.0 grade point average and was set to graduate in 2013.
According to her LinkedIn page online, she had graduated from Nair Hospital and Dental College in India in 2009, and worked at a hospital in Mumbai before coming to the U.S.
This summer, she was working at the Center for Health Care Quality.
“Aditi Avhad was an extremely bright, energetic and beloved student in our health management program,” said Eduardo Simoes, chairman of health management at the university. “We are deeply saddened by this tragic event.”
Police said Avhad was sitting on the front upper section of the bus. Megabus officials said her parents also were aboard. The extent of their injuries, if any, was not disclosed.
Joel Currier of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.