West Valley City bus driver faces federal charges after allegedly starting bus fires

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) — A man is now facing federal charges in addition to state charges after intentionally starting two fires on school buses, one of which was full of juveniles.

Michael Austin Ford, 58, is facing two counts of arson of a vehicle of an organization receiving federal funds, according to filings this week in the U.S. District Court.

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The West Valley City Police Department was made aware of the first bus fire in February 2022, charging documents state. This school bus was reportedly outfitted with an onboard video surveillance system that captured the incident.

In the footage, the bus driver, identified as Ford, could be seen driving juveniles. Smoke was reportedly coming from under the dashboard, but Ford continued to drive, charging documents state.

The students reported smelling smoke and multiple students could be seen covering their faces and coughing.

Ford reportedly then stopped the bus to evacuate the juveniles and extinguished the fire.

One juvenile in this incident was treated for smoke inhalation.

The Deputy State Fire Marshal was made aware of an additional bus fire in April 2023. This bus also had an onboard video surveillance system, capturing the incident.

A review of this footage showed the bus driver, identified as Ford, with a thumb-strike lighter in his left hand, according to charging documents.

When the traffic stopped, authorities say Ford could be seen looking down and lighting the electrical components under the dashboard on fire with the lighter.

Ford continued driving the bus after this, allegedly looking down several times at the smoke and visible flames. A few minutes later, the fire was extinguished.

Jeff Hill, the area transportation manager for Granite School District, said Ford had disabled his bus’s video surveillance system or “had issues” with the system several times.

Due to the suspicious nature of the problems with Ford’s surveillance system, Hill said bus shop staff repaired the system and were able to alter the equipment to continue recording even when the system was manually turned off. This repair is what led to the video surveillance of the incident, charging documents state.

Charges are allegations only. All arrested persons are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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