Former First Student contract manager charged

Donald Babb
Published: .
Updated: .

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Six months after 13 Investigates first exposed serious safety violations at First Student bus company, Marion County prosecutors have decided to file criminal charges for more safety problems at the state's largest private school bus contractor.

The charges have been issued against Donald Babb, First Student's former contract manager responsible for overall operations at its Indianapolis facility. Babb is accused of two counts of "failure to maintain a school bus," a misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail.

Few people have ever heard of the crime and even fewer have been charged with it, but Indiana State Police asked the prosecutor's office to file the charges after they found serious safety violations during an annual inspection of First Student buses in June.

"The inspection was horrible, awful and mind boggling," said ISP spokesman Wayne Flick.

According to probable cause affidavits filed this month in Marion County Superior Court, state inspectors found "every bus was extremely dirty and full of trash" and they also report finding "a lot of critical safety violations including brakes, exhaust, suspension, fuel leaks, and steering problems."

Those are many of the same problems 13 Investigates exposed back in February. And during a series of spot inspections this spring, ISP inspectors repeatedly warned First Student to clean up the violations. The company did not, and that's what prompted state police to ask prosecutors for criminal charges.

Flick says he was disappointed in First Student's poor performance.

"I told them, 'You've taken advantage of us. We believed in you and trusted you and you haven't done anything,'" he said. "We worked them month after month. We gave them every chance in the book to get their buses up to code and they didn't do that. We wanted to send a message that we are serious."

State police inspected 149 First Student buses June 16 -17. More than 25% of them were ordered "out of service" for major safety problems while many others were "rejected" for more minor violations. State inspectors say the high failure rate is unacceptable.

Flick says the inspectors could have issued one citation against Babb for every bus that failed its state inspection, but instead chose to issue only two citations -- one for each day that inspections were conducted. After reviewing the citations and meeting with ISP inspectors, prosecutors decided to file formal charges.

Babb, contacted at his Avon home, declined to comment about the charges, explaining that he had not yet seen the recently-filed probable cause affidavits. He also said he had signed a contract with First Student which forbids him from talking to the media. He did dispute information provided by First Student and Indianapolis Public Schools' transportation director that he was fired in June as a result of the terrible state inspections. Babb says he quit.

After Babb left the company, state police returned to First Student in July to complete their annual inspection. Of the 127 additional buses inspected, 88% were approved upon first check.

First Student school buses transport more than 17,000 students to Indianapolis Public Schools every day.