‘She could feel the water coming up on her foot;’ student’s foot falls through bus floor

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DALLASTOWN, Pa. -- A Dallastown, Pa., high school student had her foot fall through the floor of her bus as she was arriving at school Monday morning, according to her father.

Ken Heighes of York Township says her daughter Kirsta, 16, was stuck as her foot was lodged under the bus floor near the tire well. She was unable to move when the bus arrived at the high school, and the bus driver did not notice her requests for help until after the middle school students were dropped off five minutes later, her father said.

"She could feel the water coming up on her foot. I don't know how close to the tire her foot was. If she was 2-3 inches lower would her foot be pulled down by the tire? I don't know," Ken said.

Dallastown Area School District and its bus company, Durham School Services, say the bus in question, a 15-year-old spare which was being used Monday while the route's normal bus was getting serviced, was immediately taken out of service. All other Dallastown Area school buses were checked and cleared, they say.

Pennsylvania State Police is investigating the incident.

"From what the state police told me, where the wheel well is, it was rusted away," Ken said. "As (Kirsta) was standing up, it just pushed her foot down through."

Kirsta was taken to the school nurse with scrapes and bruises, according to her father. "Very lucky," he says.

Ken says her daughter continues to be leery of riding the school bus, out of fear she could fall through again.

Dallastown Area School District officials declined to go on camera for this story or be recorded through a phone conversation. Troy Fisher, the school district's human resources director, says the bus in question was inspected by Pennsylvania State Police in July, and Durham School Services performs maintenance checks every six months. When asked if the faulty bus was checked, through that logic, in December or January, Fisher responded, "Theoretically the bus should've been inspected in December or January," but could not confirm if it was.

Durham School Services, whose corporate offices are located in Illinois, responded to FOX43 through a statement:

"The incident occurred on a spare bus, meaning a bus not regularly used for route operations. We immediately pulled the bus from service when notified. We take safety matters very seriously and as such we have checked the floors of all regular route and spare buses.

In regards to inspecting our buses, our bus drivers perform pre-and-post route inspections of the bus every school day and the buses undergo preventative maintenance checks every 90 days. These checks are performed by state-certified mechanics. The Pennsylvania State Police also perform an annual interior and exterior inspection on each bus which includes over 100 points of inspection."

In February, Dallastown's school board decided to end its relationship with Durham School Services as its bus provider at the end of the school year. Dallastown will begin using Reliance Student Transportation starting July 1. Dallastown officials say the decision was not related to safety concerns.

"Absolutely not," Fisher said. "We have a very good record of safety with Durham. Over time, you will have maintenance issues that pop up. They've dealt with them swiftly."

Dallastown denied FOX43's requests to view video of the incident from the school buses security camera. FOX43 plans to file a Right to Know Request.

Ken Heighes, who says he performed state inspections on cars for 20 years, believes the school is more concerned with saving money than safety. The school's current policy, which allows Durham to perform its own maintenance checks, is not as safe as taking the vehicle to a third party garage.

"There's no way any cars I inspected would've left there and in less than six months have the floor fall out," he said. "That's our children hauled around in these buses. Safety should be first."