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FHP says Disney bus driver not to blame for accident that killed 9-year-old boy

The 9-year-old Redington Beach boy killed while riding his bike in the Walt Disney World Resort veered off a sidewalk and into the side of the bus that ran him over, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Chase Brubaker died instantly April 1 after being caught beneath the wheels of the Disney resort bus. The accident report and its findings were released Monday by the FHP.

The bus driver and the resort were not at fault, the report said. Investigators said there is no physical evidence that the bus malfunctioned, was speeding, or even left the roadway.

"It's a horrific crash," said Sgt. Kim Montes. "Five seconds later, the bus would have passed by. The timing was horrible. The bus just happened to be there."

The Bauder Elementary School third-grader was vacationing at Fort Wilderness Resort when he went for a bike ride with a friend. The FHP said they were riding south on the sidewalk when Chase's bike suddenly veered onto Big Pine Road and into the right side of the southbound bus.

His family quickly cast doubt on official accounts of the crash. They said Chase was a safe kid who was wearing a helmet. They believed that the bus driver — and Walt Disney World — were to blame.

But while clearing the driver, the FHP pointed to a new potential culprit: the boy's bike.

A witness said the front tire of Chase's dirt bike was flat before the accident. Afterward, troopers tested the tires and said the front tire was under-inflated and the rear tire held no air.

The rims weren't damaged by the bus, the report said, so the tires were likely in the same condition as they were before the crash.

"The investigators do believe it could have contributed to him drifting into the lanes," said Montes. "That could have interfered with the steering."

Scratches along the side of the bus indicate that the bike struck it after the front end was already past the victim's bike, the report said.

But no one actually saw what happened, the FHP said, not the bus' 28 bus passengers or its driver, David Rich.

Rich said he saw the bikes on the sidewalk ahead of him and stopped when he heard the crash.

The driver of a golf cart behind the bus said he never saw the bus veer off the roadway, just stop right after the crash.

The 11-year-old friend who was riding with Chase went to find his family afterward and told them he did nothing wrong. But she later told FHP she was riding ahead of Chase and never saw the accident.

Rich was kept in a non-driving position pending completion of the FHP report. He's now been cleared to return to driving, the company said Monday.

"The results of the FHP report are consistent with our understanding of how the accident occurred," said Walt Disney World spokeswoman Andrea Singer. "These findings in no way lessen the sadness we feel for the Brubaker family."

The family could not be reached Monday, but their attorney signaled that they're still contemplating legal action.

"Chase's parents are devastated by the loss of their son," said West Palm Beach attorney Karen Terry, "and they will be pursuing justice against Disney."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

FHP says Disney bus driver not to blame for accident that killed 9-year-old boy 06/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 6:57pm]
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