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Bus that caught fire was insured

By BY GHENI PLATENBURG and DAVID TEWES
July 16, 2010 at 2:16 a.m.

The charred remains of a tour bus is parked in the entrance to a Texas Department of Transportation Rest Stop near Inez on Thursday morning. Two people were transported to the hospital while others were sheltered at a Victoria church. Eventually, 12 people continued on to Houston with the bus company, Turimex Internacional.

Officials confirmed the tour bus that caught fire and left six people injured and many others stranded on Thursday morning was properly insured.

The fire, which resulted from an electrical problem in the air conditioning unit, happened at the U.S. 59 rest stop near Inez.

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles records indicated Turimex Internacional, whose U.S. headquarters are in Laredo, does have insurance and is properly registered with the state.

"They are required to maintain liability insurance for the vehicle itself. It depends on how many seats and the number of passengers the vehicle can transport. They could have up to $5 million worth of liability insurance," said Larry Simcox, with the enforcement branch of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. "They are also registered under the UCR (commercial registration) system, which means they can go out of state."

At this time it is not known which organization, if any, will be doing an official investigation into the fire. However, Simcox said it would probably be handled through the Federal Motor Carrier Administration or the Texas DPS commercial motor vehicle branch.

"If they come out across the Mexican border, then they would have to be registered as a motor carrier with the federal government. The feds could very well be the ones that come in and do the investigation," said Simcox.

Motor coach safety is an issue that many federal organizations, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are looking at improving.

"Motor coach safety is a high-profile issue for NHTSA," deputy administrator for NHTSA Ron Medford said during an organizational meeting earlier this year. "There has been an increase in the number of annual motorcoach fatalities in the past 10 years."

NHTSA data showed a five-year average of the number of fatalities in 2008 was three times that of the fatalities in 1998.

Although Turimex Internacional has no known reported fatalities on their record, they have, however, had two previous complaints reported to TxDMV.

In August 2008, their certificate was revoked for what TxDMV said could have been a failure to file their insurance.

"As soon as they were notified they were revoked they immediately got reregistered," said TxDMV public information officer Kim Sue Lia Perkes.

More recently, in March, Perkes said TxDMV received a complaint that the bus had broken down and there were no working bathroom facilities available for the people to use while it was broke down.

The complaint was closed with no action due to TxDMV's lack of jurisdiction on the allegations made in the complaint.

Several calls made to Turimex on both Thursday and Friday were not returned.

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