Bus driver has clean driving record in California

RENO - The driver involved in a central Nevada tour bus crash that injured 39 British tourists last week has a clean driving record in California, driving records there show.

But buses owned by the driver's company, California Sun Line Inc., have been involved in two crashes in the past 30 months, according to federal records obtained by a Reno newspaper. One resulted in a fatality, and the other involved injuries.

Federal and state investigators continued their probe Saturday into the cause of Thursday afternoon's crash on U.S. Highway 6 near Tonopah, about 200 miles south of Reno.

Officials are unsure what caused driver Lotfali D. Rankouh, 54, to drift off the highway and overcorrect. The bus flipped on its side and slid 200 feet.

Federal investigators will conduct an audit of the Chatsworth, Calif.-based company, examining its insurance, licensing and maintenance records and drug-testing policies.

The Nevada Highway Patrol has tentatively blamed the accident on ''driver inattention.''

''At this point there are no criminal charges pending until the investigation is completed,'' NHP Lt. Mark Malloy told the Gazette-Journal. ''That will take a minimum of a week or longer.''

All 41 people aboard, including the American driver and tour guide, were injured. A 72-year-old women from Derby, England, lost both arms.

Twenty-two people remained hospitalized Saturday in Reno and Las Vegas. Of those, five people were in serious condition and 17 in satisfactory condition.

California Department of Motor Vehicles records show Rankouh has never been cited or involved in a crash in California. He has a valid class A commercial driver's license, last issued in June 1998.

But NHP investigators will search Rankouh's driving record in all 50 states for any citations or crashes.

Rankouh was released from the hospital after being treated for minor injuries.

''He is doing OK, but he is emotionally really disturbed,'' Sun Line manager Ida Olandj told the Gazette-Journal. ''He is heading home to Los Angeles.''

The driver couldn't explain what caused him to veer off the roadway, Olandj said.

''Suddenly he felt like he (couldn't) control it,'' she said. ''He tried to control it and the load shifted. He couldn't control it, and it just flipped.''

NHP Trooper Richard James said drugs or alcohol were not involved, and speed was not believed to be a factor.

''We're pretty much focusing on driver error,'' he said.

Olandj disputed federal records, saying she cannot recall a fatal crash in the company's six-year history. Details about the two other crashes involving Sun Line were unavailble.

The company employs 21 drivers who have received two citations for moving violations in the last 30 months.

A federal audit in August 1999 gave the company a conditional safety rating because several drivers did not have log books to record when and for how long they drive.

Companies can receive a satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating during an audit.

''A conditional safety rating will imply there is a breakdown in some area of safety,'' said Michael Schlarmann, a motor carrier program specialist in Reno. ''In this case it was because of the missing log books.''

The tourists were nearing the end of a 15-day jaunt, visiting sites in California, Utah and Nevada. They left Las Vegas on Thursday morning and were en route to Mammoth Lakes, Calif., when the crash occurred.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment