Channel 13 News Investigation: Our Most Precious Cargo

IOWA  --  Megan Klindt, 16, died in a fiery school bus accident on December 12, 2017.  Her parents, Natalie and Glen Klindt, believe the Riverside Community School District bus driver, 74-year-old Donnie Hendricks, wasn't physically fit to drive the bus. They say he couldn't save himself from the fire, let alone help Megan off the bus.

Since Channel 13's stories about the accident started airing, the station has received reports of other Iowa bus drivers who may not be fit to drive a bus because of their age, physical disabilities, or both.

Dar DeKoter from Ackley, Iowa, contacted us after her husband, Matt DeKoter, was hit by a school bus a few blocks from their home.

"He just looked up and there was the school bus in his face," says DeKoter. "There was no time for him to back up the car and try to avoid the accident."

The bus ripped the front bumper off the DeKoter's SUV.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

"My spouse was okay," says DeKoter. "That's not the issue. There's 44 kids on the bus and this could have been tragic."

Had this been a serious accident, DeKoter doesn't think the bus driver, 81-year-old Kent Larson, would have been able to help the children. In addition to his age, Larson is disabled. He said he's had trouble with his legs and has a disability placard from the Iowa Department of Transportation

Larson also told us he hasn't had an accident in more than 60 years, but records from the Iowa DOT indicate he was involved in an accident in October of 2011 while driving his personal vehicle.

"I don't care if it's your first, fourth, or last accident," says DeKoter. "You had a responsibility for those kids on the bus."

DeKoter now feels she has a responsibility.

"I want to make a change."

She wants the state to place a maximum age limit on school bus drivers, much like the Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to retire at the age of 65.  Currently, there is no maximum age limit in Iowa--only an age minimum of 18 years old.

Chris Darling, the Executive Director of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, says the IPTA has looked at similar age limit proposals but "felt like we didn't need it."

"I've seen drivers 75 years old and they're amazing drivers and they're great with kids," says Darling.

Max Christensen, the Director of Transportation for the Iowa Department of Education, agrees with Darling. He says as long as a driver can pass the physical required to get a commercial driver's license, "older drivers are very good at what they do."

But State Senator Tim Kapucian, Chairman of the Transportation Committee, says he's willing to consider a maximum age limit and would like stakeholders to weigh in on the proposal.

DeKoter is adamant things "have to change before we lose a bus load."

The Klindts know the heartache of losing even one.

"We got our children on the bus," says Glen. "I want our children to be protected. I want our children to be safe. That's not asking too much."

The superintendent for the AGWSR School District, which employs Larson, declined to answer our questions, but did confirm that Larson is authorized by the DOT to operate a school bus.