A drug test conducted on the driver involved in a charter bus crash that killed 17 passengers last year showed evidence of recent cocaine use, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
The National Transportation Safety Board found evidence of cocaine in a urine sample from Barrett Broussard during its investigation of the accident, according to documents prepared by the police department in Sherman, where the wreck occurred.
Broussard was at the wheel Aug. 8, 2008, when the bus carrying 55 members of Houston's Vietnamese community to a Catholic conclave in Missouri slammed through a highway bridge guard rail and landed beside a creek.
Law enforcement officials said Broussard, 53, of Houston, hasn't been charged with a crime because the NTSB did not find evidence of cocaine in his blood, which would have indicated he was driving while impaired.
However, Broussard could face a fine from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration under a regulation that bans drivers from reporting for duty when using a controlled substance.
Phil Sellers, a Houston attorney who is representing both Broussard and his employer, Angel de la Torre, said neither he nor his clients could comment because of pending civil litigation. Broussard and de la Torre are among those being sued by the relatives of the crash victims.
The NTSB is expected to issue a report on the accident, one of the worst in U.S. history, before the end of the year. The cause has widely been attributed to a blown retreaded tire on the right front axle. Federal regulations prohibit retreads from being used on the front of buses.
The Sherman police documents note an officer spoke to a representative of the NTSB 13 days after the accident and learned Broussard had tested positive for the drug.
"Cocaine was detected in his urine but not his blood," wrote the officer, Mark Wood. "Broussard's blood and urine showed he already had metabolized any cocaine in his blood."
The records were prepared by Sherman police in their investigation of Broussard for negligent homicide. They were released to the AP under the Texas Public Information Act as a result of the case being closed without a charge being filed.
Investigators believed Broussard's failure to have the retread removed before the trip could have been considered a crime if it was determined that the tire blew because it was a retread. However, they were informed by the NTSB in May that the agency found that the tire failed due to a puncture, according to the documents.
Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said it would be unrealistic to make a case against Broussard based on the positive drug test because it probably wouldn't be allowed as evidence.
Amitava Dasgupta, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, said metabolized cocaine in a urine sample typically means the drug was used between 12 hours and three days before the specimen was collected.
"This is not a black and white case that he snorted cocaine and was impaired and caused an accident," Dasgupta said.
The Sherman police records, citing Broussard's log for Aug. 7, 2008, indicate the driver had been on duty for about seven hours, with an hour break, when the bus crashed.
Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said the agency can pursue civil penalties against a driver found to have used a controlled substance. He said he couldn't comment on Broussard's positive test because his agency hasn't closed its investigation.
FMCSA regulations require drivers to submit to pre-employment drug screening and periodic random testing after being hired, DeBruyne said. Employers are responsible for making sure the tests are conducted, he said.
Broussard pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in 2001 in Houston and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, records show. He was driving a personal vehicle at the time. He was hired as a driver for one of de la Torre's companies, Angel Tours, in May 2007, according to company records.