Report: Grand Canyon tour bus driver in deadly crash was asleep, and safety regulations were ignored

An Arizona Department of Public Safety report revealed the bus and driver should not have been on the road.
Grand Canyon Bus Crash
Posted at 12:23 PM, May 07, 2024

Angela Tirschman and her family are crash survivors still living through the trauma of what happened last summer near the Grand Canyon.

Her 19-year-old son, Kyan Tirschman, is just thankful to be alive.

“I just remember him looking at me and saying, ‘Oh my God, my leg,’ and I looked at it and it was bad,” Angela said while holding back tears.

Kyan’s leg was badly injured when their tour bus crashed near a parking lot at the Grand Canyon on Aug. 1, 2023.

“Some days are horrible. Some days we can’t get off our chair, but we go on,” said another passenger, Dorann Burgart.

Her granddaughter, 20-year-old Landri Burgart, was killed in the crash.

“She was always the light of our lives,” Dorann said.

Untold story of what happened 

All 56 passengers, including the Tirschman family vacationing from Maryland, started their day on the Las Vegas Strip. They boarded the tour bus on their way to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a popular tourist destination on the west rim of the canyon. 

“Camera roll on my phone goes from super happy Vegas to disaster,” Angela said.

Tirschman Family - credit: Angela Tirschman

Dorann said they chose the tour because they could walk out on an acrylic walkway.

But they never made it that far.

The tour bus, operated by American Transportation Systems, was almost to the parking lot. “And all of a sudden, we went down into a ditch,” Angela said. “Lots of people started screaming, and then it seemed as though we accelerated into the parking lot.”

The tour bus rolled over before slamming into three parked cars. Everyone on board was injured, according to initial reports.

“And I looked at my leg and it was open, and I saw the bone,” Kyan said.

Kyan was one of eight critically injured passengers airlifted to nearby hospitals.

“Watching him being wheeled to that helicopter was difficult,” said Angela.

Kyan has gone through countless surgeries to repair his leg and is still waiting for his nerve to regenerate. The photos of his injuries are too graphic to print.

“I had a skin substitute and then I had a wound vac attached to me,” he said.

Their family knew what happened, but for seven months they never knew why or what caused the crash until Scripps News Phoenix investigators obtained the final crash report.

Scripps News Phoenix spent nearly five months fighting to get the report, a public record, from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

“There needs to be accountability,” Angela said.

New details in final crash report

The driver of the tour bus admitted to nodding off before the collision, and investigators found the bus should have been out of service prior to the crash due to a tire “that was not within regulation,” according to the newly released final crash report.

The DPS report also found the tour bus driver, “should not have been driving due to being over hours.”

“A woman died, and there was Kyan’s injury and so many other people who were injured that it just, it makes me angry — really really,” Angela said.

Investigators said the tread on the right axle tire was so bad, steel was showing. The report also says the driver knew about the tire issue and failed to report it.

There is no confirmation the tire contributed to the deadly crash, but investigators concluded the tour bus and the driver should not have been on the road and both the bus company, American Transportation Systems, and the bus driver, by all indications ignored safety regulations.

“It could have been prevented, but it wasn’t,” Kyan said.

Records show tour bus company had numerous safety violations 

Federal safety records show the tour bus company, American Transportation Systems, based in Long Beach, California, had enough safety violations to exceed federal safety thresholds subjecting the company to possible prioritized intervention action and roadside inspection.

Before the most recent crash, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show the company’s drivers were involved in two other injury crashes in California in January 2022 and January 2023.

Federal records show the company’s drivers had 18 violations for driving over their hour limit or for not keeping proper logs.

American Transportation has more than 100 buses in its fleet. The company had 141 maintenance violations in the last two years, several for tires with bad tread, according to federal records.

Families want accountability 

Dorann Burgart and her family are still not ready to talk about the day of the crash, but recently filed a lawsuit against American Transportation Systems and the bus driver claiming negligence.

She said three generations boarded the bus, as a part of a Route 66 trip. This is the last photo they have together at the Hoover Dam, taken a day before the crash.

Credit: Dorann Burgart

“If we can in any way help someone, if there’s laws that don’t allow mechanical issues on buses to be ignored,” Dorann said.

Dorann and her family said they are moving forward by honoring Landri, who was passionate about helping others and had strong faith.

“When it gets to be a bad day, then we have to remind ourselves that we have to live like Landri because she would want us to be happy,” she said.

Landri grew up in Waverly, Iowa, and was attending college at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls where she was expected to graduate in May.

“She was our only grandchild. We prayed for her for five years,” Dorann said.

The Tirschman family also wants the bus company and driver held responsible and said they plan to file a lawsuit soon.

“If there aren’t consequences, then what’s to stop this bus company from continuing to do it this way, where we ignore safety regulations?” said Angela Tirschman.

Two other lawsuits have been filed against the bus company and driver.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it did not issue any civil penalties against the motor carrier, but the driver was cited for fatigue driving.

The 68-year-old bus driver was arrested right after the deadly crash on suspicion of manslaughter, a class two felony, and booked into a Mohave County Detention Center. The driver was later released after the county attorney chose not to file charges.

American Transportation System declined Scripps News Phoenix’s request for an on-camera interview and did not provide comment about the final crash report.

An attorney representing the company said the matter is in litigation and, “we respect those that were injured and the family and friends that have been affected.”

This story was originally published by Jennifer Kovaleski at Scripps News Phoenix.