McALLEN, Texas - A year ago, investigators were combing through the wreckage of a bus fire near Dallas that killed 23 nursing home residents fleeing Hurricane Rita, searching for answers.

The results of that investigation may change the way people with special needs are evacuated and the way commercial buses are regulated. In a trial set to begin with jury selection today, James H. Maples, president and director of Global Limo Inc., will face federal charges.

He's charged with conspiring to falsify driver time records and failing to inspect buses to ensure their safety. The trial is in McAllen because the company's headquarters is in nearby Pharr. The conspiracy charge, the most serious of the three-count indictment, carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if Mr. Maples is convicted; his company faces a fine of up to $500,000.

Thirty-seven residents of Brighton Gardens, an assisted-living community in Houston, were on the bus evacuating the oncoming Hurricane Rita when it caught fire on Interstate 45 outside Wilmer.

Survivors said the bus already had stopped once for a flat tire. But when the driver, Juan Robles, stopped the bus the second time he looked worried and yelled at passengers to get off.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued new guidelines for carrying medical oxygen, recommending that tanks be secured in an upright position and limited to one canister per patient in the passenger compartment.

In May, the bus company, travel broker and mechanic who changed the tire agreed to deposit the maximum coverage of their insurance policies, a total of $12 million, with the court to distribute to the victims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kinchen, the lead prosecutor in the case, has said the trial will be about the company's management leading up to the accident.

The conspiracy charge in the indictment alleges that drivers operated in pairs, with one driving and the other resting in the passenger seat. There was no sleeper berth for the resting driver as is required by law and as was indicated in driver logs.

It is alleged that drivers were directed to falsely record their passenger-seat time as "off duty" to get around the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's "10 hour" and "15 hour" rules for maximum consecutive driving time.

"Those actions resulted in Global Limo bus drivers driving in a tired and fatigued condition, at risk of causing accidents on the nation's highways and elsewhere," the indictment reads.

Court papers show the government plans to provide evidence that the company was found in violation of numerous Department of Transportation regulations in 2002 and 2004 and failed to comply with laws regarding driver logs, inspection reports and driver training and qualifications.

Mr. Maples, a 67-year-old former NFL player, has been operating tour buses since 1987 and incorporated Global Limo on July 17, 2002. He ran the small fleet from a tiny building in Pharr, just outside McAllen. Clients included school districts, at least one of which complained of a broken air conditioner and malfunctioning windshield wipers.

"We're looking forward to presenting the case to the jury and being vindicated of the charges leveled against him," defense attorney Charles Banker said.

Mr. Robles, an illegal immigrant, eventually was cleared of charges in exchange for his cooperation in the case. He was directed to stay in Texas as a material witness.

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