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Family: Wolfline bus driver died of carbon monoxide poisoning

Posted February 9, 2012

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— The family of a North Carolina State University campus bus driver who died in December after complaining of fumes on her bus said Thursday that an autopsy found the cause of her death as carbon monoxide poisoning.

Joann Veronica Griggs Sewell, 50, died three days after her family said she was overcome by fumes on a Wolfline bus on N.C. State's Centennial Campus.

Patricia Ray, the union representative for Teamsters Local 391, which represents First Transit's Wolfline drivers, said two other drivers complained about fumes on Sewell's bus earlier that day.

First Transit, which has operated the Wolfline system since 2007, took the bus out of operation while the North Carolina Department of Labor investigated her death.

Sewell's family requested an autopsy following her death, and daughter Sherese Brown said the results indicate her mother died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The State Medical Examiner's Office said Sewell's autopsy isn't complete and that preliminary results aren't released publicly, so officials couldn't confirm the family's information.

Cincinnati-based First Transit issued a statement Thursday afternoon, noting that tests of air on the Wolfline buses haven't found detectable levels of carbon monoxide. The company said it continues to cooperate in the investigation into Sewell's death.

"Our maintenance staff routinely evaluates the fleet to ensure safe and efficient services," the statement said. "A recent audit of the fleet did not reveal any material issues – be it fumes on buses or any other safety related issues."

Last month, another Wolfline driver also complained that smells on her bus made her sick.

Lisa Feeney said some of her passengers also noticed the fumes, but First Transit maintenance workers found nothing wrong.

Feeney said she refused to drive the bus after that, but the bus continued on its route with a different driver.

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  • Buck Farack Feb 9, 2012

    "I don't care how you spin it,according to federal laws the employer is liable."

    That's true..."according to federal laws" and probably some local laws too...if indeed it was CO from the bus that killed her. I find it hard to believe that the exhaust from a rear-engine bus could seep all the way up to the front where the driver is. Was the bus being run inside a closed garage or out on the streets? I'm sure that John Edwards would looovvvve to take this case. I'm also sure its little comfort to the dead woman.

  • 5Rs Feb 9, 2012

    "As Americans we should be guaranteed a safe workplace," - Bill Brasky

    There is no such thing as a "guarantee" of any environment being safe, workplace or school or playground or . . . To even think there might be is irrational.

    That said, the investigation of this particular incident is still incomplete.

  • Bill Brasky Feb 9, 2012

    "Hey Bill, the only person responsible for "guaranteeing" your safety is YOU! If you see an unsafe condition, its YOUR responsibility to do something about it and that doesn't mean batching about it to someone else and then patting yourself on the back for your good deed"

    In the above situation the driver did complain to supervisors several times and was told to get back and drive. No action was taken by the employer and now we have a dead employee. I don't care how you spin it,according to federal laws the employer is liable.

  • mjlt3 Feb 9, 2012

    My heart goes out to the family and may the check do too!!!

  • bytingwolf17 Feb 9, 2012

    First off I would like to say that this loss of life is a tragedy. I do want to point out though that if she did indeed die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning as the family is claiming then it is likely not due to the bus. Wolfline buses use a biodiesel-diesel mix to fuel the buses and the amount of CO emmissions is incredibly low. One would have to practically be breathing from the exhaust pipe to be in any danger. Hopefully the facts of the case will come out soon, but I advise readers to not immediately condemn the bus system for this tragedy.

  • fgacomms Feb 9, 2012

    Statement from First Transit Media Relations Department:

    First Transit continues to cooperate with OSHA in its investigation and to date OSHA’s ongoing investigation has not revealed any safety concerns. In particular, OSHA has conducted air monitoring on the buses in question and the testing did not reveal any detectable amount of carbon monoxide.

    Since the investigation has commenced, First Transit has continued to operate safely and efficiently, transporting students, faculty and staff in and around the community and campus. In addition, our maintenance staff routinely evaluates the fleet to ensure safe and efficient services. Indeed, a recent audit of the fleet did not reveal any material issues – be it fumes on buses or any other safety related issues.

    At First Transit the safety and security of our passengers and employees is our highest priority and our staff of transit professionals work tirelessly to ensure that members of the campus community and the community at la

  • Buck Farack Feb 9, 2012

    "As Americans we should be guaranteed a safe workplace, and those companies that don't follow through will be prosecuted." Bill Brasky

    Hey Bill, the only person responsible for "guaranteeing" your safety is YOU! If you see an unsafe condition, its YOUR responsibility to do something about it and that doesn't mean batching about it to someone else and then patting yourself on the back for your good deed.

  • uncw05 Feb 9, 2012

    wd43stp123- I set off by every WRAL commenter in the last 3 days who has used the word hearsay, and implied it is illegal or immoral. For the record I understood (or at least hoped) that you weren't actually such a wackadoodle that you thought they would turn your comment into an article about an unconfirmed source. I read it as sarcasm all the way. I also understand that there are people on here who will totally think that an accusation of hearsay is an accusation of a crime. I thought maybe we could start an educated discussion of how it's not, starting with the very point that your comment proves: all news is reporting something learned not experienced, so all news is hearsay. Sorry I even tried to say the same thing your comment does without the sarcasm.

  • sunshine1040 Feb 9, 2012

    When I am short of breath my next stop is a vist to my Doctor or emergency room with somone else doing the driving. It should be a drivers responsibility to check out the vehicle before driving it. To make sure all safety systems worked properly. If bus driver had accident while driving short of breath who do you think would have been charged first

  • pvision01 Feb 9, 2012

    Normally I just read the comments and go on about my merry way, but Buckie's comment DISTURBED me wholeheartedly! I happens to know this Mother's young son (15 years old). I coached him in basketball last year. When I learned of his mother's death I was devastated. For you to sit here and say family is seeking money is PATHETIC. No you're pathetic! You don't have to necessarily have health problems to die from carbon monoxide. Do your research! This mother's child is still pushing forward and trying to live a normal life without his mom. And here you are talking about a handout. What if you lost your mother? I'm certain you'll be sending the death certificate right on to your life insurance company to get YOUR PAYOUT! Ignorant!!

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