Former Mechanics for SC Dept. of Education speak out against state, say school buses are fire-prone

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) – New school buses aren’t making this year’s school supplies list, now that South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster vetoed a bill to purchase more than 400 new buses.

Two former mechanics, that worked for the South Carolina Department of Education, tell WJBF NewsChannel 6 the Thomas Built Buses make-up about half of the state’s fleet and they are the most dangerous on the road.

“It’s only a matter of time before something tragic happens,” said Jarred Willis, a former Mechanic for the state Department of Education.

Trevor Mattingly used to work on the very same yellow school buses that are parked behind Aiken High School.

He says they’re fire-prone and are long overdue for the junk yard.

“We had one of them, that burnt down, come to our station where I worked at, whenever I was still employed with the state, and the guy came out to inspect it to determine the cause of the fire.” Mattingly told WJBF NewsChannel 6. “Whenever everything was said and done, we more of less walked away from that with the knowledge that a flat tire had caused this bus fire.”

The average lifetime of a school bus is about 10 years, however most of the ones in South Carolina are more than 20 years old.

“If you can’t justify spending money on the safety of children what can you justify spending money on?” Mattingly said.

Mattingly says the South Carolina Department of Education is aware of the problems, urging mechanics to find quick fixes for major issues.

“By rerouting battery cables to try to get them away from transmissions,” he said.

The former state mechanics worry with no funding to replace the aging-fleet, nothing is going to change.

“Especially with the fire and the superstructure on the 1998 Thomas, if one of those things rolls over you will not be able to get out of it.” Willis said.

That’s potentially risking the lives of students across the Palmetto State.

“The truth is we should put $100 million dollars into to upgrade the system,” said District 86 State Representative Bill Taylor. “But $30 million dollars is a step in the right direction. I’m sorry it’s coming from the lottery, but really student safety is a top priority.”

The State Superintendent and lawmakers are hoping to work together to override the Governor.

Count on WJBF NewsChannel 6 to bring you the latest on this developing story. 

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