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2nd Child Dies After Bus Crash In N.Va.

Driver Is Charged In Separate Mishap

By Leef Smith and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page B01

Monday's school bus crash in Arlington claimed its second life last night, a 7-year-old boy who died after being gravely injured in the collision with a trash hauler, authorities said.

Maria Garcia, a cousin who spoke on behalf of the family, said Harrison Orosco, a second-grader at Hoffman-Boston Elementary, was pronounced dead at Children's Hospital about 9:25 p.m. Nine-year-old Lilibeth Gomez died Monday at the scene of the crash, and 16 others were injured.

"He was a very smart kid. He really enjoyed the sciences," Garcia said of Harrison. "He was a very good soccer player" and had played on an indoor Bolivian soccer team that had recently won a tournament.

The boy's 11-year-old stepsister, who was injured in the crash, was released from the hospital yesterday after being treated for internal injuries, Garcia said.

In a separate incident in Alexandria yesterday, a private school bus with faulty brakes and bald tires crashed, but none of the 34 students aboard was injured. Police said the driver should not have been behind the wheel.

Investigators have said it could be weeks before they know the cause of Monday's crash at Columbia Pike and South Courthouse Road. National Transportation Safety Board officials said Tuesday that mechanical problems had been ruled out but that more investigation was needed to determine what went wrong.

Lilibeth, a third-grader, will be remembered at a wake today in Arlington, followed by a funeral Mass tomorrow in the District.

In yesterday's crash of the private school bus, the driver, Abdelrazeg Abdalla, 31, of Falls Church, was charged with several counts, including operating the Islamic Saudi Academy bus on a suspended license.

Investigators said Abdalla's driving privileges had been suspended at 12:01 a.m. yesterday because of insurance-related issues. He was fired by school administrators shortly after the charges -- including citations for reckless driving and driving a vehicle with faulty equipment -- were issued.

"They determined that the bus had little or no brakes at all and that the tires were in fact bald," said Alexandria Police Capt. John Crawford, adding that investigators found skid marks to suggest that Abdalla tried to apply the brakes.

The chain-reaction crash, in which two other drivers sustained minor injuries, occurred as the school bus ferrying students to the Islamic Saudi Academy failed to stop as it traveled south down a hill on North Quaker Lane near Duke Street. The bus struck a Honda Civic, causing a chain-reaction crash involving the bus and three cars.

Police said Abdalla told them he was unable to stop the vehicle as traffic slowed. State police towed the bus to a maintenance lot for examination.

Virginia State Police determined that the bus was unsafe to drive and said it would remain out of service until the problems were repaired.

David Kovilik, director of education for the Fairfax County academy, said the bus was not part of the fleet's normal daily rotation, calling it "a spare."

He said that the bus passed its Virginia state inspection in July and that it was subject to daily mechanical checks as well as monthly preventive maintenance.

"I looked at the bus [after the crash], and the tire tread was thin, and on one axle the brake was worn down to the metal," Kovilik said. "The other three tires had functioning brakes."

Kovilik said Abdalla was hired as a driver in August after a comprehensive background check that he said included a search for any past convictions and "points on his license."

But a check of court records in Virginia revealed seven past charges, including several traffic violations for speeding and crossing a double yellow line. Several of the charges had been dismissed.

A phone number for Abdalla could not be found yesterday.

Staff reporter Tom Jackman and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company