St. Louis cab driver warns of maintenance concerns after car catches fire

By Lauren Trager

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — A local cab driver said she barely survived a fire that engulfed her cab.

She spoke exclusively to News 4, wanting to warn anyone who might take a ride in one local company’s cabs. It’s important because, while a lot of people now take Ubers or ride shares, many others rely on this company. Even the school district has a contract with them to take vulnerable kids to school.

“I just remember being so afraid,” she said.

Tralia Barton shudders watching the video, fire consuming her cab. She’d been driving her normal route in St. Charles, when she first noticed a horrible smell, then smoke.

The dispatcher at St. Charles Yellow Cab told her to drive it back to work.

“I noticed the light and I looked down that’s where the fire had started, over the gas pedal.”

But she never made it.

“That was the sound of the explosion, yeah, that pop,” she recalled.

The cab was burnt up with hundreds of dollars of her cash and belongings inside, she said.

The shell of it has been sitting outside the business more than two weeks later.

“I have to look at the thing that almost killed me,” Tralia said.

But she’s thankful, she said, no one else was inside.

“We pick people up from hospitals, what if I had picked up someone with a walker? I wouldn’t have been able to get out, pop the trunk, get them out, with the walker?” Tralia asked.

“The ‘what-ifs’ are bothering me the most, I think. It keeps me up at night. I know that I would have tried to save them, but what if I couldn’t,” she said.

What’s worse, she told News 4, is that the company should have known. The car that caught fire had not been properly maintained, according to her.

“Before that, the signals wouldn’t even work, you couldn’t say you were turning left or right, and you couldn’t put on the hazards.

Others in the fleet, she told News 4, also weren’t in working order.

“If one cab had a power steering issue, another one had a brakes issue.

Two people appeared to be working on another cab when News 4 Investigates visited the shop, not far from main street St. Charles, but they referred us to who they said was the owner inside. That person denied being in charge.

To try to verify Tralia’s claims, we wanted to pull inspection records. Cabs, car services and taxis in St. Louis city and county are specifically regulated by the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission. They require annual inspections, with older vehicles often inspected twice a year, according to officials. All vehicles are subject to random inspections.

But St. Charles Yellow Cab and other cabs in St. Charles aren’t a part of the commission and are subject only to city rules.

Though they did not provide inspection reports, city officials did provide these two letters from last year. The city is currently taking the company to court for code violations, including property maintenance and storage of abandoned/inoperable vehicles

“Do you know how poorly maintained a car has to be to spontaneously combust? It’s been almost two weeks and nothing has been done about it,” she said.

Tralia told News 4 she’s not gotten reimbursed for her lost items and no one’s spoken to her, she says, about what happened.

“Not so much of a thank you or I’m sorry,” she said.

She is worried about who might next be hailing a cab.

News 4 reached an attorney representing the owner in the code enforcement case, who said they had no comment.

Most of the cabs appeared to have up-to-date state tags, which, like your personal car, would require safety and emissions inspections, but we are working to verify.

This company contracts with the St. Charles City School district, for about 25 rides per week.

News 4 will definitely keep pressing for more answers.

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