Iowa family files lawsuit over fatal school bus fire

Iowa family files lawsuit over fatal school bus fire
Student Megan Klindt and driver Donnie Hendricks died in the school bus fire in December. (World-Herald News Service)

OAKLAND, Iowa — The family of an Iowa girl who died in a school bus fire filed suit against the Riverside School District on Wednesday, claiming negligence and wrongful death, according to court records.

Megan Klindt, 16, died in the Dec. 12 fire along with the bus driver, Donald Hendricks, 74. The lawsuit names the Riverside Community School District as the defendant, but not Hendricks’ estate.

Court documents state Megan had voiced concerns about Hendricks’ ability to drive safely before the fire. Megan’s father, Glen Klindt, said he previously witnessed Hendricks fail to stop at a stop sign and nearly strike his vehicle.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report — the full report is expected later this year — stated the fire on the bus started in the engine before spreading to the passenger area. Megan and Hendricks died of burns and smoke inhalation, authorities have said.

The bus backed into a ditch across from Megan’s home after Hendricks picked her up for school. Hendricks tried to get out of the ditch, and the fire started.

Megan’s mother, Natalie Klindt, ran outside to help when she saw the grass in the ditch had caught fire. Hendricks was hanging out of a window, and Natalie Klindt told him to throw her daughter out of the bus, but Hendricks did not know where the girl was, the record states.

Bus barn supervisor Nick Bates did not call 911 after he was informed of the fire, and instead drove to the scene with a fire extinguisher.

Riverside District Superintendent Tim Mitchell said they had not received a copy of the lawsuit as of Wednesday afternoon and could not comment further.

The Klindts’ attorney, Bradley Schroeder, said the family believes the district had reason to know Hendricks was in no condition to operate the bus.

“We can call attention to the issue, bring light to the negligence we think occurred and hopefully prevent this from happening again in the future,” Schroeder said.

The family has asked for the matter to be settled by a jury trial, with Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Susan Christensen presiding. A court date has not been set.