MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Schools has revoked the status of one of its 36 approved charter bus companies after a WMC Action News 5 investigation revealed its alarming safety record and questionable corporate status.
Jefferson Travel & Tours, Inc., with a bus lot at 836 Crump Blvd. but an official address of 5040 Blacksmith Dr. in Northaven, will no longer provide travel for SCS extracurricular activities after its bus carrying Central High School's basketball team and cheerleaders caught fire Tuesday on I-55.
"Shelby County Schools is investigating the bus fire involving Jefferson Travel & Tours, Inc. The district has removed the charter bus company from its list of vendors pending the outcome of the investigation," said SCS spokesperson Kristin Tallent.
Arthur Jefferson, owner and operator of Jefferson Travel & Tours, said he's not sure what caused the fire on his bus. "Could be brakes. Could be a line that broke," he said. "These things happen. We don't know what happened. We're sorry it happened."
Records with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reveal Jefferson's bus fleet has never been inspected by federal regulators since its incorporation in 2011. It has a federal safety rating of "None."
The Mid-South Better Business Bureau has given it a F-rating since 2012, in part due to safety complaints. One complaint alleged an "accident" on a 2012 trip to Orlando in which Jefferson's "...driver failed to contact police." A complaint from a 2013 traveler alleged Jefferson's "bus was in unsafe condition."
"Brake lights went out. Tires were bad," said Mid-South BBB President Randy Hutchinson. "And the driver had been driving too long on a previous commitment. (The complainant) didn't think it was safe for him to be driving on this trip."
According to the BBB complaint, the "driver asked for an energy drink to stay awake."
"We're not a bad company. We're a safe company," insisted Jefferson.
It may not be a "company" at all, at least anymore.
According to the Tennessee Department of State's corporate records, Jefferson Travel & Tours' corporate status is listed as "inactive-revoked (revenue)." Department spokesperson Blake Fontenay explained the revocation was for unpaid taxes.
Tennessee Department of Revenue spokesperson Kelly Nolan-Cortesi said it is against the law for the department to comment on a company's tax status, whether it is listed as inactive or active.
WMC Action News 5 discovered Jefferson's corporate status after our interview Wednesday, so we could not ask him about his unpaid taxes.
"We're not an unsafe company. I inspect the buses. My drivers inspect the buses. I have mechanics who inspect the buses. I can only tell you that (Tuesday's) bus was checked, thoroughly checked, and we do what we can to make everybody safe," Jefferson said.
Memphis Fire Department Lt. Wayne Cooke said the department has not determined a cause of the fire. He expected the report to be available Thursday.