Colombian law enforcement is charging the driver of a school bus that burned, killing 32 children on board, with aggravated manslaughter, and investigating the possibility that the driver left the bus’s engine running while refueling the vehicle as the children sat inside.
According to the Associated Press, witnesses of the tragedy, in which the more than 30 children are believed to have burned to death in the overcrowded vehicle, suggested that negligence in refueling the vehicle could be to blame. The driver, the report noted, may have attempted to use a portable container to put more gasoline in the bus while the engine was running and with the children inside. In addition to the dead, twenty are hospitalized, and, according to the mayor of Fundación, the town in which the tragedy occurred, half are in critical condition.
The children, between the ages of one and twelve, were returning from Sunday School classes at a Pentecostal church. Relatives say that 13 of the 32 dead were all from the same family–siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Child witnesses have given testimonies consistent with the facts law enforcement has provided. One child interviewed in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo said that the driver had gotten off the bus to refuel it, but “from one moment to the next, the bus began to spark, and at that moment the driver ran away to find water and later left.” The girl said she broke a window to save her sister, adding, “but I could not save my other two brothers.”
In addition to potential negligence, the bus driver, identified as Jaime Gutierrez, was found to be operating without a driver’s license or insurance. The driver was captured this weekend after running away once the bus caught on fire and attempting to hide from authorities. The driver, authorities reported, had been responsible for the transportation of forty children in the past two years. Not only did the vehicle lack insurance and the driver lack a proper license, but the bus had not been taken through routine inspections.
Colombian media are speculating on another number of significant legal issues. El Tiempo has reported that the gasoline the driver was using to fuel the bus was bought off the black market, which is not an uncommon practice but could certainly make the situation more dangerous. The bus is alleged to have operated both on gasoline and black market fuel. The vehicle also did not have any emergency exits or fire extinguishers; villagers who ran to the bus after the driver fled attempted to quell the fire using sand.