A popular Los Angeles-area tour bus company given poor safety ratings by state and federal agencies is continuing to operate, an ongoing NBC4 I-Team investigation has found.
In July, the I-Team broadcast photos of a bus driver for American Lion Transportation texting, talking on the cellphone, and speeding more than 80 mph during a run from downtown Los Angeles to Las Vegas. American Lion says it fired that driver.
As a result of that report, the California Highway Patrol conducted a surprise inspection and gave American Lion an "unsatisfactory" rating. The company had four months to fix safety problems on its buses.
But two more CHP inspections, including one last week, found dozens more violations. The tour bus company has been forced to sideline its buses at its terminal in Vernon.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stripped American Lion of its authority to operate, but the I-Team found American Lion is still running tour buses to Las Vegas with buses rented from other companies, according to American Lion employees who spoke to NBC4.
Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said that a bus company “who does not possess USDOT authority, selling tickets using “rented” vehicles would appear to be a violation of federal safety regulations.” DeBruyne would not comment specifically about American Lion.
The owner of American Lion, Jesus Lopez, told NBC4 that a federal inspector told him last year he was allowed to keep operating with rented buses, but he wouldn’t name that inspector.
Jinel, a former passenger of American Lion who provided photos of the texting driver to the I-Team, is disappointed the company is still in business and still hasn’t fixed some violations on its buses.
"I would definitely never use American Lion again," she told the I-Team. "Why have the buses not been impounded? If you drive a car repeatedly when you don’t have a license to drive, then your car gets impounded."
The CHP told NBC4 it will do another inspection of the American Lion within six months. If the company receives a third "unsatisfactory" rating, CHP will recommend disciplinary action to other regulatory agencies.
Read the three most recent safety compliance reports here: