The mistake that rammed a busful of Jehovah’s Witnesses into an overpass at the Miami International Airport appears to be the first blemish on the record of both the driver and the bus company.
The driver, Ramon Ferreiro, 47, took a wrong turn on South Le Jeune Road. He was going too fast. He sped past multiple signs warning of the low clearance at the airport’s arrival concourse.
When he crashed the 11-foot-tall bus into the overpass, two people sitting in the front were killed and the remaining 30 passengers went to hospitals.
Ferreiro has a valid commercial driver’s license with the proper endorsement to carry passengers, according to records from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
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He was “was licensed to be driving what he was driving,” spokeswoman Kirsten Olsen-Doolan said.
He has no criminal record, nor has he ever appeared in civil courts. He is originally from Cuba, and it is not clear how long he’s been in the United States. He did not return calls from the Miami Herald.
It is unclear whether Ferreiro understood the multiple yellow signs at the airport, warning “high vehicles” to turn off before the overpass.
Airport officials have quietly suggested that the signs could be confusing to someone who doesn’t read English.
There are no records of how Ferreiro took the test to receive his commercial driver’s license, only that he passed and received his full licence in Oct. 2010, according to Olsen-Doolan. It is possible to take the written test in Spanish and use an interpreter for the driving test.
Ferreiro’s next door neighbor, Diosdado Rodriguez, told a Miami Herald reporter in Spanish that he didn’t know how well Ferreiro speaks English, since they always communicate in Spanish.
“He’s an excellent person – he would never want to hurt anyone,” Rodriguez said. “He must be going through a hard time right now.”
Passenger Serafin Castillo, 86, was killed on impact in Saturday’s crash, and Francisco Urena, 57 died soon after arriving at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Two passengers remained in critical condition and four were in stable condition Tuesday at JMH.
Mayling Hernandez, who owns the Miami Bus Service with her husband Alberto, said Ferreiro had been driving for the company for a few months and was referred to her by another driver.
The Sweetwater congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses that contracted the Miami Bus Service to go to a conference in West Palm Beach had hired the company before, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post.
The company has the proper permit from the Florida Department of Transportation for motor carriages of this size. It also has the required $5 million insurance on file with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, according to U.S. Department of Transportation records.
There are no customer complaints filed against the company in the Florida Division of Consumer Services database. Both Mayling and Alberto Hernandez have clean criminal records as well.
After running down the list of legal requirements for the driver and the company, Captain Kenny Morris of the Florida Highway Patrol said the last piece of the puzzle would be the hiring practices of the company.
“Hopefully bus carriers are pretty stringent on who they hire,” Morris said. “I would hope they have a very good screening process for their drivers.”
The Miami Bus Service runs regularly scheduled service between Gainesville and South Florida, and is known to University of Florida students as a cheap – but unreliable – option. Orientation materials for new students list Miami Bus Service on a page of suggested transportation companies, but the company has “no contractual agreement whatsoever” with the university, according to Scott Fox, the UF director of transportation and parking services.
Mina Radman, a junior at UF and journalism major, said she has never personally had a bad experience taking the Miami Bus Service home to Broward County, but knew many other students who had been on the company’s buses that have broken down.
“It’s kind of alarming that it was a Miami Bus Service bus that was involved,” Radman said. “It definitely makes me think as a student, you get on the bus and think ‘Oh someone else is driving me home,’ and you don’t think something bad would happen.”
Miami Herald researcher Monika Leal, El Nuevo Herald reporter Melissa Sanchez and former Miami Herald intern Meredith Rutland contributed to this report.