WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) — The Utah bus driver accused of lighting several school buses on fire while driving students has been charged with aggravated arson and aggravated child abuse, according to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
Granite School District bus driver Michael Austin Ford, 58, was charged Thursday in connection to two cases of alleged arson that occurred in February 2022 and April 2023.
In the February incident, video surveillance allegedly shows “smoke coming from under the bus dash” and Ford continuing to drive, according to a press release. There were 66 students on board at the time, some of whom were reportedly seen covering their faces and coughing.
Ford then evacuated the bus and one student was treated for smoke inhalation, according to officials. The next incident allegedly occurred in April and was also caught on video. Officials say Ford is seen lighting electrical components under the dash with a “thumb-strike lighter.”
Documents say moments later an air line under the dashboard ruptured and extinguished most of the fire.
In addition to the two cases related to the arson charges, West Valley Police investigators say there have been four fires while Ford was driving school buses all in the dash area. In addition, investigators say there have also been two fires at his home in West Valley and a car fire in Bluffdale.
Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley said Ford was placed on leave after the April incident and was let go by the school district on June 5, 2023. Ford had been employed as a bus driver in various contract hourly, part-time and full-time positions since 1998. Horsley confirmed Ford had passed all appropriate background checks required by law.
For the first incident, Ford was charged with 10 counts of aggravated arson, a first-degree felony, and one count of aggravated child abuse, a second-degree felony. He was charged with arson and obstructing justice, both second-degree felonies, for the April offense.
“Mr. Ford endangered the lives of not only the children on the bus, but also the other drivers on the road. These charges reflect the severity of the risk that was created by Mr. Ford,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said.
Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office, State Fire Marshal, Granite School District, and local law enforcement all contributed to the investigation.
Charges are allegations only. All arrested persons are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.