A dozen passengers injured in a bus crash last month near Hamlet, N.C., are suing the South Carolina church that owned and operated the bus.
A lawyer representing members and coaches of the Ramah Junior College (Ramah JuCo) football team told WCNC Charlotte that Sandy River Baptist Church of Chester, S.C., failed to do what it should have done to keep the passengers safe.
The charter bus was carrying 50 Ramah JuCo football players and coaches to its first-ever game in Fayetteville, N.C., Sept. 17 when it blew a tire, causing driver Brian Kirkpatrick, 43, to lose control. The bus struck a guardrail and collided with a concrete bridge column at a high speed.
The collision killed Mr. Kirkpatrick, two players, Devonte Gibson, 21, of Rock Hill; and Tito Hamilton, 19, of Pahokee, Fla., and Darice “Junior” Hicks, the 8-year-old son of a coach. Forty-two of the other passengers were injured.
“We know that the initial cause of the wreck was a blown tire, but it also appears that the bus was not properly operated or maintained — possibly for some time prior to the wreck,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer told WCNC.
WNCN Raleigh-Durham reported that state transportation records indicated the bus had not been inspected or maintained at all within the past 24 months, even though privately owned buses are required by law to undergo an annual inspection and maintenance.
The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the crash and has not said anything about the possible causes. The North Carolina Highway Patrol last week said it would not pursue criminal charges against Sandy River Baptist Church, but it did cite it for multiple violations.
Several more passengers are expected to join the lawsuit, WCNC reported.
Team coach Bakari Rawlinson told NBC Charlotte that the college’s home city of Rock Hill, S.C., has reached out to the team, offering help and support, but the church has not.
“They haven’t reached out, the only thing I’ve heard was just refer to insurance company and let them deal with it,” Mr. Rawlinson said. “I think justice should come about and the people who were behind this whole issue of misleading individuals, justice should come to them.”