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Bus driver, company share clean records

May 13, 2011 at 12:13 a.m.
Updated May 14, 2011 at 12:14 a.m.

Guadalupe Ruiz, the driver of a Valley Transit Greyhound bus, left, talks to injured passengers after a pickup pulled out in front of the bus on U.S. Highway 77 forcing it to swerve into the median and hit a metal pole near Chubby's Exxon gas station, Wednesday around 9 p.m. One passenger was killed.

Wednesday night marked the fourth time since 2004 that Guadalupe Ruiz was involved in a crash as a Valley Transit bus driver.

But Ruiz, a 57-year-old Edinburgh man, has never been cited for causing such a crash, according to records provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The bus driver's clean slate is mirrored in the record of the company that employs him. Valley Transit, based in Harlingen, also boasts a relatively clean record, especially so when compared to national averages.

One woman died and more than a dozen other passengers were injured Wednesday night after Ruiz swerved to avoid a pickup. The high-speed maneuver forced the bus onto the U.S. Highway 77 South median near Fleming Prairie Road, and then into a utility pole.

Law enforcement cited the pickup driver - Larry Marceaux, a 30-year-old Vinton, La., man - for failing to yield the right-of-way. Marceaux pulled prematurely into oncoming traffic because a tractor-trailer, turning off the highway, blocked his view of oncoming traffic.

Ruiz, a Valley Transit driver since 1995, is no stranger to bus crashes. Before Wednesday, he was involved in two crashes in 2004 and another in 2008, all of which occurred in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, state records show.

Never was he cited or deemed to be at-fault in any of the crashes.

"Bus safety comes down to the training of the driver. He's the key component," said Norm Littler, vice president of the American Bus Association and executive director of the Bus Industry Safety Council. "There are times when bad things can happen to good companies."

Valley Transit is a good company at least in terms of safety, according to Littler and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records.

The company maintains an all-around satisfactory rating.

During the last two years but not counting Wednesday night's crash, the company reported two crashes resulting in one injury.

The company operates 51 buses and employs 42 drivers.

Of the 245 federal vehicle inspections during the last two years:

21, or 9 percent of the company's buses were forced out of service. Compare that to the 21 percent of buses nationwide that were sidelined.

Of the 296 driver inspections during the last two years:

Only one driver, or .3 percent was sidelined. Nationwide, 5.5 percent of drivers were sidelined for various reasons.

"Wow. That's huge in a good way, absolutely," Littler said, praising Valley Transit's driver records.

Dating back to October 2009, five Valley Transit drivers violated federal laws - from operating a commercial vehicle without a license or the appropriate aides, such as corrective lenses.

Ruiz is required to wear such lenses, his driving record shows.

Valley Transit was the operator during a 1989 bus crash that killed six people, Littler noted. A few years later, Greyhound bought the independent company and now operates it as a fully-owned subsidiary.

"It's a good company," Littler said, adding that the goal is to have no fatalities or injuries every year. "I think we can achieve it."



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