- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The company that owned a bus that exploded during last year’s Hurricane Rita evacuation, killing 23 nursing home residents, was found guilty yesterday of conspiring to falsify logs and poorly maintaining its fleet.

The company’s owner, James Maples, was acquitted on the conspiracy charge but was convicted of falsifying logs and poorly maintaining the fleet.

The trial stemmed from a federal investigation into a Global Limo Inc. bus that exploded and burned while stuck in traffic on Sept. 23, 2005, killing elderly patients too frail to escape. The patients’ oxygen tanks exploded as the flames engulfed the bus.

Maples hugged his wife and daughter, smiling as he left the federal courts building, but declined to comment.

“It was what we were hoping for as far as beating the conspiracy count,” defense attorney Charles Banker said. “He basically confessed to the other counts.”

The conspiracy charge carried a prison sentence of up to five years and $750,000 in fines. Sentencing on the other counts was set for Dec. 14.

The jury was asked to decide whether Maples conspired to falsify driver time records aimed at assuring proper rest and failed to properly maintain his buses or require bus drivers to complete post-trip inspection reports.

Maples was not directly charged with the bus fire, and U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa prohibited prosecutors from mentioning the accident, saying it fell outside the scope of the charges and would prejudice the jury.

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