Southern Regional School District Bus Burns on Garden State Parkway

Jan 16, 2019
Courtesy of: Rafael Adorno One of Southern Regional's school buses developed a mechanical problem, and ultimately caught fire, as it headed back to the high school from Brick on Friday, Jan. 11.

One particular Southern Regional School District bus didn’t make it back to the transportation yard on Friday, Jan. 11. Instead, it went up in flames on the Garden State Parkway.

According to Superintendent Craig Henry, bus driver Kathryn Purcell, who has been with the district for about 3½ years, was returning to Southern from the Ocean County Vocational Technical School’s Brick Center with 21 students when the bus started having mechanical issues.

“Mrs. Purcell was experiencing engine performance issues while traveling southbound, and she pulled over on the shoulder of the Parkway just north of exit 69,” Henry said. “Mrs. Purcell notified our dispatch center of her status and requested that a bus returning to campus from the Jackson Vocational School, which was a few minutes behind her bus, rendezvous with her so that the students could be transferred to the Jackson bus. She recognized this was going to be an extended situation due to the fact that the engine would not turn off with the key command.”

The Jackson Center bus arrived as requested, and the students transferred buses and were returned to campus in time for the end-of-day Southern dismissal, Henry said. Well after the student transfer had occurred, smoke began emitting from the engine compartment. Since Purcell was unable to shut off the engine through its normal process, the engine was still running, and shortly afterward a fire within the engine compartment started. Within minutes the entire front end of the bus was engulfed in flames.

“The cause of the fire is still under investigation, with the preliminary hypothesis being a failure of the oil-fed turbo unit,” Henry said.

The New Jersey State Police were notified of the bus fire near mile marker 72 about 1:30 p.m. By 2:30 p.m., the state police had opened up all southbound lanes. Purcell was not injured.

According to Henry, the bus is a 2008 Blue Bird model, of which the district has four others.

“Our mechanics worked through the weekend to review the service records of all five 2008 Blue Birds and to inspect the other four,” Henry said. “We are also checking with national safety databases to query if there is any known history of similar failures. To date, we have found no known history of similar failures, and our other four 2008 Blue Birds have been thoroughly inspected.”

— David Biggy

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