Brakes could be to blame for Peoria school bus crash

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Department of Public Safety says bad brakes could be to blame for an accident that injured three adults and three children Monday in Peoria. A bus carrying Sun Valley Elementary students rear-ended a truck on its way off the northbound Loop 101 near Olive Avenue.

In the search for what went wrong, investigators when back to the bus's last annual review, which was just a few weeks ago on March 19.

"We found a noticeable audible air leak from the brakes," DPS spokesman Bart Graves said. "We informed them about that, took the bus out of service. The next day they brought it back. We checked it out and it was good to go."

Fast forward to Monday, when the bus driver, Robert Barcus, blamed faulty breaks for the crash. That's where DPS has focused its investigation.

"It's possible that the defects on this brake, on these brakes, played a role in the crash that occurred on Monday," Graves said. 

The inspectors said pins were missing from the brakes that, to them, looked brand new and that's where there are some discrepancies.

"The inspector noticed that there were brand new and recently installed brakes on the bus," Graves said.

The school district, which over sees routine maintenance, says that's not true.

"That bus did in fact get new brakes, but it was in October 2011, so there were no new brakes put on that bus," said Danielle Airey with Peoria Unified School District.

So, what's the truth about the brakes? Both sides feel certain they're right, but the school district said it will wait for the full DPS report.

As for the driver, some parents are concerned that an error on his part might have caused the wreck.

Barcus has driven buses with Peoria Unified School District for the last five years. DPS has looked into his driving record as part of its investigation.

"We are reviewing his certification," Graves said. "We certify commercial bus drivers in the state."

DPS say Barcus has had three minor collisions since 2010. In the first, he side-swiped a truck, In this second incident, he hit a cement post while gassing up.

"The third one students were on board and he rear-ended another school bus that was in front of him that stopped suddenly," Graves said. No one was injured in that accident.

The school district says Barcus has a clean record, and those three incidents prior to Monday's crash were not cause for concern.

Until the investigation is complete, Barcus is on paid administrative leave.