Bus driver charged in hurricane evacuation deaths case

| 10/18/2005

The driver of a bus that caught fire and killed 23 passengers who were being evacuated from the path of Hurricane Rita is facing criminal charges for each of the passengers' deaths.

On Friday, Oct. 14, Juan Robles Gutierrez, a Mexican citizen, was charged with 23 counts of criminally negligent homicide for allegedly contributing to the deaths of his passengers, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Gutierrez's bus, which was carrying 45 senior citizens from a retirement home in Bellaire, TX, caught fire and exploded on Interstate 45, just as thousands of residents in the Houston and Galveston area fled their homes in preparation for the approaching hurricane.

Authorities believe a mechanical failure in the brakes caused the fire, which spread into the passenger area and may have exploded when it reached some of the passengers' oxygen tanks.

According to The Associated Press, a motorist told investigators that he motioned the bus driver to pull over after he noticed that a rear wheel hub was glowing red. Investigators said Gutierrez didn't mention that encounter when they interviewed him after the fire.

If convicted, Gutierrez could face up to two years and a $10,000 fine for each of the homicide charges.