Ride the Ducks tour vehicles like the one involved in last week’s fatal collision will no longer use the Aurora Bridge. Meanwhile, state regulators said they would go beyond examining the safety of the vehicles to also look at maintenance and training.
OLYMPIA — Ride the Ducks tour vehicles like the one involved in last week’s fatal collision will no longer use the Aurora Bridge, an attorney for the Seattle tour company told state regulators.
Meanwhile, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) said it would broaden its investigation into the Sept. 24 crash — which killed five and injured dozens — by not only examining the safety of the vehicles, but also looking at maintenance and training.
The announcements came at a hearing Thursday on a complaint filed Monday by the UTC against the company. On Monday, the UTC suspended operation of Ride the Ducks while it investigates.
The complaint accuses the company of operating at least one of its World War II-era vehicles in an “unsafe manner.” The UTC, which regulates commercial passenger carriers around the state, alleges Ride the Ducks broke federal safety laws and state rules.
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Patricia Buchanan, attorney for Ride the Ducks, said company owner Brian Tracey met with a city official shortly after the collision and said the company’s fleet will no longer use the bridge.
“They will be using a different route,” Buchanan said at the hearing.
Part of the UTC investigation is focusing on whether a mechanical issue with the vehicle’s axles, which was not addressed despite a 2013 service bulletin calling for repairs, contributed to the crash.
The UTC wants to determine “whether the company received the service bulletin from Ride the Ducks International advising it of issues with the axle housing, and what steps the company took, if any, to remedy the defect in its vehicles,” according to the commission.
At least three company mechanics inspected the Duck’s axle during required yearly vehicle examinations after the service bulletin was said to be issued, records show. Reports for inspections on the vehicle in 2013 and 2014 show none of the mechanics took corrective actions on the axle.
UTC commissioners and staff Thursday said the investigation will also take a broader look at company operations, including how it maintains vehicles and trains drivers and other staff.
“I don’t want this just to be a look at the axle underneath … I want us to look at these vehicles and be satisfied not only that the vehicles are safe, but the way in which they are operated is safe,” said Commissioner David Danner.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday in a regular news conference that he supported the UTC’s expanded approach.
The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash.
Witnesses to the accident said the Duck vehicle appeared to have a mechanical problem with its left front wheel before swerving, crossing the narrow bridge’s centerline and careening into a charter bus owned by Bellair Charters & Airporter. The five people killed were North Seattle College students.
Transportation officials and lawmakers have been concerned for years about safety on the Aurora Bridge, where traffic is squeezed onto the tightest six-lane highway bridge in the state. There is no median.
Lawmakers are asking transportation officials to provide ideas for improving safety on the Aurora Bridge.
After the hearing, Buchanan declined to comment on whether Tracey knew about the 2013 order calling for fixes to axles on some of the company’s fleet, including the one involved in last week’s crash.
As part of the investigation, the company’s entire fleet of vehicles will be inspected. Buchanan said she hopes that the vehicles of a different make than the one involved in the crash — which don’t have axle issues — can be returned to service within 30 days. The next hearing date is set for Nov. 3.
As of Thursday morning, nine patients remained hospitalized from the accident, all in satisfactory condition, according to a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center and University of Washington Medical Center.