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White Knoll students injured by bus model with long history of problems

Northeast Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) On Tuesday evening, a school bus from Lexington District One experienced a mechanical problem while traveling to an out of town soccer game. Because of this problem, several students from the White Knoll High School soccer team were injured and required medical treatment.

In a statement released by the district over social media, a district representative said; Shortly before 5 p.m., a Lexington County School District One transit bus (B712) transporting 18 White Knoll High School boy soccer players, three coaches and a bus driver had a radiator failure while traveling on I-20 to Lugoff High School. The incident happened just before Exit 87.

Six students (one 17-year-old 12th-grader, two 17-year-old 11th-graders, two 16-year-old 10th-graders, one 15-year-old 10th-grader) were injured and either have received or are receiving medical treatment.

The Kershaw County School District’s Transportation Office sent a bus to the accident to pick up the uninjured soccer players and take them to Doby’s Mill Elementary School, where another Lexington District One bus picked them up for the return trip home.

White Knoll High School coaches and administrators are in contact with the soccer players and their parents/guardians and are keeping them updated.

The statement continued by saying, “The safety and well-being of our students is always our first concern, and we are keeping these students and their families in our thoughts. We are also grateful for the help of the Kershaw County School District.”

Ironically, the bus with the problem Tuesday was also a rear engine diesel bus much like the one that caught fire Monday afternoon between Batesburg-Leesville and Gilbert. In that case, no students were on the bus and no one was injured as a result of the fire.

In one case that occurred in October of 2016, a rear engine Thomas Built bus that was a 1995 model, caught fire at Dutch Fork Elementary School. That bus had almost 50 students on it, but all were able to escape before the fire consumed the bus.

After that fire, state officials who oversee the bus fleets for all the schools in SC said that fires have been a common problem with those buses as they racked up many miles over the years. At that time, there were nearly 2,500 of those Thomas rear engine buses in use by the SC Department of Education.

In an article in the Charleston Post and Courier that was published in 2008 after a rear engine Thomas bus fire at a high school in the low country, it detailed an analysis of state school bus maintenance records from 1996 to 2006 performed by the Post and Courier’s staff. In that analysis, more than 100 fire-related incidents on state school buses, a rate three times higher than the state's own count, occurred.

The article went on to say that the 1995 Thomas Built accounted for a majority of the more serious fires. That model of bus makes up more than one-third of the entire state fleet.

State officials have our entire bus fleet inspected regularly. They have also ordered extra inspections of the rear engine models in the past after some caught fire. In those inspections, they have found problems with the turbochargers that allowed key components to crack and drip oil onto hot parts. Some of the fires have been attributed to this problem.

In other parts of the nation that have experienced problems with fires on similar buses, they have found wiring harness issues that sparked electrical fires on the buses.These are also inspected regularly on SC’s fleet of buses.

It is important to point out that the bus from White Knoll that had the problem Tuesday night did not actually catch fire. Instead, district officials said that the radiator problem caused the students to be injured. Radiators are a key part of the cooling system on any vehicle that contains very hot water under high pressure.

A quick search of the internet found many articles about students from across the country that were also burned by steam after other school bus cooling systems had failed. In many of these cases, the buses were the rear engine types who had heater or cooling systems hoses or clamps fail inside the passenger compartment, injuring the buses’ occupants.

It remains to be seen whether any additional inspections will be scheduled for the state’s buses assigned to Lexington County after this latest incident. District One’s Chief Communications Officer Mary Beth Hill pointed out again after the bus fire on Monday that the buses used by all SC schools were owned and ultimately controlled by the state, and any information regarding the buses or their maintenance would need to come from the SC Department of Education.

The Ledger staff is reaching out to the state for a comment regarding this story. We will update it as that information is provided.

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