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Bus Driver Accused Of Lighting School Bus On Fire With 42 Kids On Board

A Utah school bus driver was detained Saturday after being accused of setting a bus on fire on two occasions, the first involving dozens of kids on board, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah announced.

Former Granite School District bus driver Michael Austin Ford, 58, of West Valley City, Utah, was indicted last month and is facing two counts of arson of a vehicle of an organization receiving federal funds. Prosecutors alleged thatvideo evidence shows him using “an ignition device” to start a fire with 42 kids on board in February 2022.

According to the announcement, the video also shows Ford continuing to drive the bus into traffic “despite smoke billowing past his face towards the back of the bus where children were seated.”

A video released by the U.S. Attorney's Office allegedly shows driver Michael Austin Ford inside a school bus that prosecutors say he set on fire on April 7, 2023.
A video released by the U.S. Attorney's Office allegedly shows driver Michael Austin Ford inside a school bus that prosecutors say he set on fire on April 7, 2023. U.S Attorney's Office for the District of Utah

According to the prosecutors’ motion for detention, the video shows Ford stopping the bus “when children are seen and heard on video coughing, covering their faces, and complaining about smoke.”

In a statement to HuffPost on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Granite School District said students were able to evacuate through the regular doors and no one was injured.

The spokesperson added that, although the school district had its suspicions about the incident, there was no evidence that Ford was involved at the time.

“The District worked with law enforcement and installed additional camera systems on his bus and took other measures based on those suspicions,” the statement said.

Ford allegedly set another fire last April, which was also caught on video footage that was cited in a motion for detention. A snapshot from the footage showed no passengers on board the bus then.

“The entire fire, and the Defendant’s casual and long-delayed efforts to extinguish that fire, are captured on video,” the motion read.

According to the motion, there is also video evidence of Ford attempting to “tamper” with the video surveillance system on the bus by covering up the camera above his seat.

Ford was arrested days after the April fire by Granite School Police and was questioned, but he was released, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in the announcement. The spokesperson for Granite School District said Ford was immediately placed on leave during the investigation and was terminated in June 2023.

According to the motion, Ford “acknowledged” to investigators that he was involved in three previous fires on buses he was driving in 2017, 2016 and in 2001 or 2002.

In October, his home and personal car were “severely damaged by fire,” according to prosecutors, who noted it was second time a fire was reported at Ford’s home.

According to online court records reviewed by HuffPost, Ford has entered a plea of not guilty and is set to appear in court on March 18. A public defender listed as his representative did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for a statement.

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