DALLAS (AP) — The driver of a bus that swerved off a North Texas highway, leaving two passengers dead and dozens injured, was at the wheel in another fatal accident 15 years ago, but an official Friday downplayed the importance of the earlier accident to the pending investigation.
The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed that Loyd Rieve, 65, was driving the tour bus Thursday that veered across the highway in Irving and into the center median with 46 passengers aboard.
The bus was operated by a Mansfield company, Cardinal Coach Line Inc. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, which occurred as the group of seniors was heading to an Oklahoma casino.
Court records show that Rieve was driving for another company in 1998 when he struck and killed a man who was trying to render aid at an accident scene on a highway near Dallas.
DPS spokesman Lonny Haschel said authorities will interview Rieve and review his driving record. But Haschel said the 1998 accident will not have any bearing on the investigation into Thursday's wreck.
Rieve remained sedated and in intensive care Friday after suffering three broken ribs, according to his wife, Gail Rieve.
She said her husband, a bus driver for 32 years, remembers little about the accident.
"He came up on the barricade thing," she said. "The next thing he remembers is being in front of the bus."
A Dallas County grand jury declined to indict Rieve on a charge of negligent homicide stemming from the 1998 collision, but Rieve and his employer still faced two civil lawsuits that contended they were negligent.
One lawsuit, filed by the family of the man who was killed, alleged that Central West Motor Stages Inc. of Grand Prairie hired and retained Rieve when it knew or should have known he was unfit and incompetent.
It resulted in a jury finding that the company was negligent for employing Rieve. However, the jury awarded no damages, deciding that the good Samaritan, 22-year-old Chad Rosell of Detroit Lakes, Minn., was largely at fault.
Rosell's attorney, William Dunleavy, said Friday he was stunned when he learned Rieve was the driver of the bus involved in Thursday's accident.
"I thought, 'Why is this guy still driving?'" Dunleavy said.
The other suit, which made similar allegations, was filed by a bus passenger who was badly injured, according to her attorney, George Otstott. The suit resulted in an out-of-court settlement, he said.
"If I owned a bus company and one of my drivers killed somebody, I might leave him in the garage, make him a mechanic," Otstott said. "Then again, that was 15 years ago. He may have a stellar record since then."
Gail Rieve said the bus struck Rosell because he jumped onto the road and the vehicle's brakes were faulty.
"Loyd did everything he could to save to those people on the bus and that young man," she said.
Messages for the company's general manager and the attorney who represented it in the lawsuits weren't immediately returned Friday.
Paula Hahn, 69, and Sue Taylor, 81, were killed in the Thursday accident. The other 44 passengers sustained various injuries, and some remained hospitalized Friday, officials said.
Taylor, known as "Casino Sue," organized trips to casinos all over Oklahoma and Mississippi, complete with treats for riders and prizes for the biggest loser.
"She simply said, 'I'm going to have a bus. Would they pay me?' And they said, 'Yeah, they pay you,'" her daughter, Pam Boynes, said. "And so she just got it going. And it just got bigger and bigger."
Haschel said the magnitude of the investigation — including interviews with passengers and witnesses, numerous state and federal agencies and an inspection of the bus — means it will take some time to complete.
"The Department of Public Safety has a lot of boots on the ground doing different pieces of the investigation," he said.
Associated Press writers David Warren and Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.