Owner of bus that exploded during Rita evacuation sentenced

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The owner of the bus that exploded during the Hurricane Rita evacuation, killing 23 elderly evacuees, was sentenced Wednesday, Jan. 10, to five years of probation for mismanaging his fleet. A judge ruled that Global Limo owner James Maples can no longer work for any bus company. He will be confined for the first year — six months in a halfway house and six months at home with electronic surveillance — though he will be allowed to work.

Maples was acquitted Oct. 3 of the most serious charge of conspiring to falsify driver time logs so drivers could work longer than federal law allows. He was convicted of the two lesser allegations, of poorly managing his fleet and not requiring drivers to fill out vehicle inspection reports. The maximum prison sentence he could have received was two years.

Maples was fined $10,000, and his since-dismantled company was fined $100,000 and placed on probation for five years. The company was convicted of all three charges and faced a fine of as much as $500,000 on the conspiracy count and a $200,000 fine on each of the other two convictions.

The sentences stemmed from a trial about management of the bus fleet and vehicle inspections and not the 2005 explosion. The judge told prosecutors the blast was not mentioned in the charges and could not be addressed before the jury. The six-day trial stemmed from a federal investigation into the explosion, which occurred on a bus carrying Houston-area nursing home patients away from the approaching storm.

The investigation determined that poorly lubricated wheel bearings overheated in the right rear well, igniting a tire. The patients’ oxygen tanks exploded as the flames engulfed the bus; 14 people survived. Global Limo was shut down two weeks after the accident, and documents show a new name for the company and a new registered agent.