Federal investigators study crash that killed 4

Wreck victim DeWayne Escort is remembered on a cross beside U.S. 90.
(The Daily Review Photo by Preston Gill)

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

Federal investigators are looking into several safety issues including occupant protection, tire failure, the road and even what affect a median barrier would have had in the collision of a school bus and sport utility vehicle that killed four people Feb. 15.
Peter C. Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation and Safety Board, said a team of six people came to Louisiana for the investigation that intermittently shut down U.S. 90 for a few hours on Feb. 18.
The investigation is not an attempt to determine fault or blame in the accident, he said.
The four people killed in the accident were all unrestrained occupants ejected from a Kia SUV. Louisiana State Police reported a failed tire caused the Kia, driven by LaDonna Cheatham, 36, of Patterson, to cross the median and strike a Lafayette Parish school bus carrying 30 Lafayette High students and five adults with the baseball team.
Cheatham was killed along with her children, Destiny Cheatham, 6, and Marcus Cheatham, 16, and her nephew, DeWayne Escort, 14. Another son, Mark Cheatham, 17, who was restrained, was taken by helicopter to a hospital with moderate injuries.
Randall Mann, an Acadian Ambulance spokesman, said 11 people were transferred to area hospitals, including three by helicopter.
The NTSB Office of Highway Safety sends investigators to accident sites to gather information in support of ongoing investigations in which similar issues are being examined, Knudson said.
“As far as the roadway goes, we’ll be documenting the condition of the roadway surface, posted speed, average daily traffic and history of accidents in the area,” Knudson said. “We’ll also be trying to determine what type of barrier system could have either prevented the accident from occurring or mitigated its severity.”
The information investigators gathered and will analyze may be used in a larger safety study, Knudson said.
There will also be an attempt to determine if Cheatham may have been fatigued, distracted or otherwise impaired as she drove the Kia, Knudson said. Investigators will be doing a forensic examination and analysis of the left rear tire to determine how and why it failed the way it did. In addition, they have documented the impact damage to both the SUV and the school bus, he said.
“The survival factors aspect of the investigation will focus on how the use or non-use of restraint systems in the SUV affected the survivability of the accident,” Knudson said. “And in the school bus, we will want to determine if there are any design issues that could be addressed to mitigate injuries in such accidents.”

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