Former Utah school bus driver accused of setting bus on fire with students onboard

Former Utah school bus driver accused of setting bus on fire with students onboard - Crime and Courts - News

Former School Bus Driver in Utah Faces Multiple Charges for Allegedly Setting School Buses on Fire, Including With Students on Board

Michael Austin Ford, 58, of West Valley City, Utah, is currently facing both federal and state arson charges for allegedly setting fire to a school bus in two separate incidents. The most recent incident occurred with students onboard, while the other occurred over a year prior.

Federal Charges

According to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah, Ford was indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2023 on two counts of arson of a vehicle of an organization receiving federal funds. He has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, as stated in the court docket.

Incidents Involving Students

One of the alleged incidents took place on February 15, 2022, when Ford reportedly set a Granite School District bus on fire with 42 students inside while driving in traffic. The US Attorney’s Office alleges that Ford used an ignition device to start the fire and continued to drive the bus with smoke billowing towards the back, where the students were seated. Video footage obtained by law enforcement reportedly captured this incident.

Attempted Tampering

The second alleged incident occurred on April 7, 2023, when Ford once again set a school bus on fire while driving in traffic. Video footage shows him attempting to tamper with the surveillance system and covering up the camera above the driver’s seat, according to a detention memo filed by prosecutors.

Previous Arrest

Ford was arrested several days later in April 2023 by Granite School Police and questioned about the fire, but he was released. While the investigation was ongoing, his home and personal vehicle sustained severe damage from fires in October 2023, the second time his home had experienced significant fire damage. Ford acknowledged two other personal vehicle fires as well as three other bus fires that he was driving in around 2001 or 2002, 2016 and 2017.

Additional Charges

Ford was arrested again on felony state charges in October 2023. He is currently being detained ahead of his federal trial, set for April 29 in Salt Lake City. Ford has been charged with a total of 11 counts, including ten counts of aggravated arson and one count each of aggravated child abuse, arson, obstruction of justice, and misdemeanor property damage for the two bus fires in Utah district court filings.

Granite School District Statement

The Granite School District issued a statement saying Ford was employed as a bus driver in both part-time and full-time positions from 1998 until he was terminated in June 2023. The district stated that he had passed all necessary background checks and had a history of disabling the Website video integration surveillance system on his bus or experiencing issues with it several times. This led to the alteration of the system so that it recorded even when manually turned off, ultimately resulting in Website video integration evidence of the April 2023 fire.

Caution and Prevention

State prosecutors have requested that the court deny bail for Ford, citing his status as a clear danger to both the community and himself. They also noted several other fires related to Ford’s incidents, emphasizing the unacceptable risk posed by intentionally setting a fire in a school bus filled with minors.

It is crucial for parents, schools, and communities to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of children while traveling on school buses. Regular inspections, maintenance checks, and strict adherence to safety protocols can help prevent incidents such as these. Additionally, reporting any suspicious behavior or concerns to school officials or law enforcement is vital for the protection of students and the community at large.