Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Nakamoto: Despite reporting issues, driver told to keep driving CATS bus before it erupted into flames

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BATON ROUGE- Audio recordings obtained by the WBRZ Investigative Unit show a CATS bus driver notified dispatchers about problems on her bus one hour before it went up in flames but was told to keep driving.

The audio obtained through a public records request is between a CATS driver and dispatch on June 10, 2022 when bus 202 erupted in flames at the Mall of Louisiana.

The driver notified CATS that the engine light was illuminated, a number of other lights on the dash were lit, and the bus would not go above 15 miles per hour at 2:20 p.m.

"That's normal," the dispatcher responded.

Nearly 12 minutes pass, and the driver of bus 202 noticed another problem as she was headed to Woman's Hospital.

"This bus, 202, I have real bad fumes coming out back of the bus," the driver told dispatch. "It's coming out bad. I'm asking, should I go up here with this bus like this?"

The dispatcher responded, "10-4, you might be polluting the air, but it won't harm anybody."

One hour after that communication, the bus was engulfed in flames at the Mall of Louisiana.

"202 on fire, trying to put it out," goes over the radio.

Anthony Garland is the Vice President of the Transit Union at CATS. He said the driver did exactly what she was supposed to do, despite being given bad instructions from dispatchers.

"In that instance it's totally incorrect," Garland said. "That operator did what she was supposed to do, and that bus should have been pulled over and taken out of service. Someone from maintenance should have retrieved that vehicle."

Garland is calling for additional training for the dispatchers after logging nearly four fires on CATS aging buses in the past two years.

"If the vehicles are too old to be in service they need to be replaced," Garland said. "But, there needs to be accountability as to what is going on in each of the incidents that have happened so the public can feel safe on those vehicles."

CATS released the following statement in response to our questions Monday.

"Safety is our first priority here at CATS, and our CATS team is constantly working to ensure that all necessary policies and procedures are in place to protect our riders, operators, and those with whom we share the road.

While the cause of the incident involving CATS Bus 202 remains under investigation, we can disclose that the fire did not originate in the engine. Our records indicate that CATS Bus 202 was up to date on all required preventive maintenance, and had recently been serviced. Further details will be provided as necessary upon the completion of the investigation."


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