Tuesday, October 18


Recall the commercial bus that burst into flames just south of Dallas, Texas, during the Hurricane Rita evacuation? Twenty-three Brighton Gardens of Bellaire nursing home patients from the Houston area were lost in the conflagration, started, it is believed, by a right rear tire blow-out that may have, in turn, resulted from an over-heated, poorly-maintained brake assembly or a loss of wheel bearings. Tragically, the fire onboard was further fueled by oxygen canisters being used by some of the elderly passengers.

In today's "Houston Chronicle" (online edition requires registration), reporters Terri Langford and James Pinkerton write that the bus driver, Juan Robles Gutierrez, 31, is an illegal alien and has been charged with 23 counts of negligent homicide.

The driver of the bus that erupted into flames last month, killing 23 Bellaire nursing home residents as they were transported out of Hurricane Rita's path, now faces criminal charges for each of the passengers' deaths.

Juan Robles Gutierrez, 37, currently in federal custody in Texas, was charged late Friday by the Dallas County Sheriff's Department with 23 counts of negligent homicide. Each count carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in a state jail facility and $10,000 fine.

The charges were forwarded to Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill, who will present the case before a grand jury within the month, said Rachel Horton, Hill's spokeswoman.

"We believe the evidence collected thus far indicates that the bus driver, Juan Gutierrez Robles, contributed to the

The reporters continue:

Last Friday, Robles, who was being detained near San Antonio for his illegal immigration status, was transferred from Immigration & Customs Enforcement custody into the hands of the U.S. Marshal's Service. A spokesman for the marshal's service said the matter was sealed and he could not provide any more information about Robles' status or if he had an attorney.

Robles, an illegal immigrant, was at the wheel of the 1998 bus leased to his employer, Global Limo of Pharr, Texas, when it caught fire south of Dallas on Sept. 23. The company had been hired by Brighton Gardens of Bellaire, a nursing home facility to move its residents to safety.

Robles had a Mexican commercial driver's license which is valid on U.S. roads under the North American Free Trade Agreement and recognized in Texas. He waded across the Rio Grande last January and soon afterward began working for Global Limo.

I believe that last paragraph is incorrect. Under N.A.F.T.A. provisions, it is my understanding that a commercial driver's license issued in Mexico is only valid for driving regularly-scheduled bus routes between points in Mexico and in the United States (and return routes back to Mexico). In other words, I do not believe it is legal for a Mexican national bus driver, carrying only a Mexican commercial driver's license, to operate a commercial bus between pick-up and delivery points within the 48 contiguous states in our country. Additionally, the bus driver who has been charged entered the United States illegally and the bus line he worked for, Global Limo of Pharr, Texas (not a Mexican-owned business) had no right to employ him in the first place.