Nearly a week after UCIPD and firefighters discovered a burning ASUCI shuttle in Lot 1B, the question of whether the fire was caused by arson or faulty wiring remains unanswered for investigators. The state fire marshal’s report, which will render the final verdict on the case, is still being processed. However, evidence emerging from shuttle maintenance records makes fire due to faulty wiring a smaller possibility.
ASUCI Transportation Manager Tim Rudek argued that it is nearly impossible for an electrical spark to start a fire within the shuttles since the vehicles have safeguards to prevent such occurrences.
‘When buses have electrical problems, they have circuit breakers,’ Rudek said. ‘When the breaker is thrown, the power to the wire is cut off.’
Rudek also pointed out that the bus had its engines turned off and had been cooling for many hours before the fire started.
‘The bus was parked at 6:30, 6:45 at night and the fire didn’t occur until 4 or 5 in the morning. It was unlikely that it was an electrical fire,’ Rudek said.
In response to concerns about the safety of ASUCI shuttles, Rudek is adamant that every aspect of the shuttle service is safe.
‘Our program is audited once a year by [the California Highway Patrol] … Drivers are on drug testing. They are also on the DMV Poll Program, which makes sure their driver records are exemplary,’ Rudek said.
Mark Brunk, manager of Fleet Services, which performs maintenance on all ASUCI shuttles, supports Rudek’s claims of vehicle safety and thorough inspection.
‘We service them every 6,000 miles or six months … Drivers go through the buses every morning, and if there are any problems, they bring it in and we take care of them,’ Brunk said.
Alhough ASUCI maintenance records showed no signs of mechanical problems, there was something about the burned shuttle itself that struck him as peculiar. While inspecting the wreckage, Brunk noticed that all the damage from flames was located above the floorboards of the vehicle. As a shuttle service manager, however, he knew that all the fuel lines and electrical components were below the floor.
If the fire had been caused by a problem with wiring, the fuel lines and electrical components would have sustained the heaviest damage.
However, Brunk said, ‘What’s peculiar about that [shuttle] is that everything from the floor up is wrecked, burned up, and everything else, fuel, electrical, [which is underneath the floor] is pretty much intact.’
Though Brunk hesitated to call the incident arson without any hard evidence, he admitted, ‘All the fuel lines were replaced previously and they were intact, so that doesn’t leave other options.’
Another peculiarity lay in the condition of the shuttle doors themselves. Shawn Duffey, the student driver who was the last to drive and park the shuttle, said, ‘I locked the door when I closed down that evening.’
However, the burned shuttle was discovered the next morning with doors open and windows smashed. ‘The next morning, when I was talking to the police, they told me that the fire department had not opened the door to put the flames out,’ Duffey said.
Doug Freeman, director of public safety for Blue Bird Corporation, which manufactures all ASUCI shuttles, countered the argument that shuttle seats are made of highly-flammable materials.
‘The seats, in fact the entire interior [of buses], are required by law to meet certain standards as prescribed by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and this bus met those standards,’ Freeman said.
Despite evidence that points toward arson as the cause, students and administrators seem unconcerned. Many say that if it was arson, it was likely a random prank that will not be repeated.
‘I’d find it pretty unbelievable because why would anyone spend so much time and effort to burn a shuttle, of all things,’ said Ernest Wong, a sixth-year history major.
In regards to safety and how the burning of the shuttle reflects on the campus, many students say their view is unchanged.
‘I think it would still be a safe campus, although I don’t think you can stop taking the shuttle just because one was vandalized,’ said Peter Holt, a first-year psychology major who rides the shuttle every day.
ASUCI President Gabriel Ayass believes that if there is an arsonist at large, UCIPD will have to take on a more aggressive role on campus.
‘If it was in fact arson, maybe the UCIPD needs to patrol the campus a little more and not pull people over for not wearing a bike helmet,’ Ayass said.
In its weekly meeting last Tuesday, ASUCI met to discuss the purchase of a new shuttle. They have decided to move forward rather than wait three months for insurance money to come through, and decided to allocate $24,000 to purchase a new shuttle.
‘We need that shuttle now basically to continue running the service as smoothly as possible,’ Ayass said.
The state fire marshal’s report will be available early next week. It will contain Marge Yarborough’s evaluation of the maintenance and condition of the shuttle as well as the probable cause of the fire.
Contributions made by Allan Taing.
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