Survivors of crash that killed 4 sue church that owned bus

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Twelve football players and coaches who survived a North Carolina bus crash that killed four people last month are suing the church that owned the bus.

Sandy River Baptist Church in Chester County failed to maintain the bus and its tires and didn't inspect the vehicle, a lawsuit filed Monday contends.

The bus was going 65 mph on Sept. 17 when the front tire blew on U.S. 74 near Hamlet, according to the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

The driver lost control, and the bus slammed into a guardrail and bridge support, peeling most of the metal off the bus's left front side, troopers said.

No one answered the phone at Sandy River Baptist Church on Tuesday, and no one has responded to several messages left with the church and its officials since the crash.

The lawsuit does not ask for specific damages.

Four of the people died, including bus driver Brian Kirkpatrick, and 42 people were injured.

Federal records list the bus as a private carrier, which doesn't have the same safety and inspection requirements as commercial buses.

Ramah Jucco Academy coach Bakari Rawlinson said in a voice mail last week to The Associated Press that he paid Kirkpatrick directly to use the bus after shopping around, and he didn't realize the bus wasn't legally available for hire.

Rawlinson said he paid all of the expenses for his team, which was heading to its first game when the bus crashed.

"I'm almost solely, completely paying out of my pocket to give these men a second chance. Everybody doesn't have $3,000 or $4,000 these other programs are charging," Rawlinson said. "We lost just about everything in that bus crash — everything."

In the past 10 years, Kirkpatrick had three tickets and was involved in one crash, according to state Department of Motor Vehicle records. He was cited for driving over the speed limit twice in 2011, and for driving too fast for conditions in 2012.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection to the crash near Hamlet, but troopers filed four civil penalties against the church for non-crash-related violations, including improper registration plates. The fine for all four penalties is about $150, said Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon.

A federal investigation is continuing.

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