Investigation: NC county’s bus drivers still driving students after multiple wrecks

North Carolina news

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – A WBTV Investigation has uncovered dozens of CMS school bus drivers are still employed by the school district even after causing a crash.

While the school district says it has policies in place to discipline drivers, the WBTV investigation found drivers on the roster with multiple crashes and other drivers continued working even after crashes that resulted in injuries to students.

CMS Executive Director of Transportation Adam Johnson told WBTV that his division carefully evaluates school bus crashes before determining action against the driver.

“What we do is look at the totality of the accident,” Johnson said.

“It could be a minor accident, but if we found there were other factors involved, we still take whatever appropriate disciplinary measures are necessary based on the departmental policies as well as working with human resources.”

Records obtained by WBTV show that there are at least 81 school bus drivers at CMS still behind the wheel even after being found at fault in a crash. That includes five drivers who have been involved in multiple accidents.

The number of drivers in accidents still working for CMS is likely higher. WBTV was only able to analyze 218 school bus crashes because CMS refused to provide WBTV with copies of all the school bus driver crash reports since 2014. There have been more than 2,000 crashes since 2014 and more than 1,200 of those were determined to be preventable.

“How many times do they have to have accidents for them to do something?” Charlotte resident Cindy Stone asked.

Stone reached out to WBTV about a school bus crash she was in after the driver left the scene of the accident. She also told WBTV that a supervisor for CMS transportation division told her the driver would not even be reprimanded unless there was more than $5,000 of damage caused.

“He said they don’t even get a reprimand if there’s at least $5,000 worth of damage and that’s just a reprimand. That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Stone said.

WBTV asked Johnson if there was a dollar amount of damage drivers needed to cause to face disciplinary action.

Johnson said he believes the school board has a dollar figure set, but he wasn’t sure what that was. WBTV was not able to find a board policy that detailed bus driver discipline that took effect at a certain value.

Johnson said that regardless of that policy, his division has its own rules that it follows.

“It is a case-by-case basis, unfortunately,” Johnson said. “We have to kind of look at each accident individually and look at all the circumstances surrounding it before we make a determination.“

But WBTV was able to find crashes that caused serious injury to other drivers and to students where the drivers stayed behind the wheel for CMS.

The CMS Transportation Personnel Manual notes that the transportation division will determine if the accident was “preventable.” If it was, the driver will receive additional training and a corrective action form.

The manual also reads “preventable accidents resulting in damage/cost to CMS board property, private property or personal injury may result in suspension without pay and release from employment upon completion of investigation.”

But personnel records obtained by WBTV show that the punishment often varies.

One driver was involved in three preventable accidents in one year before her employment was terminated. Other drivers were terminated after just one crash or after CMS was notified by CMPD they were cited for a traffic safety violation.

But WBTV also uncovered that CMS school bus drivers rarely are cited by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department after being involved in an accident. In 218 crashes analyzed by WBTV, only four drivers received citations.

WBTV asked CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes why CMS drivers weren’t receiving citations.

“The officer in many cases wouldn’t issue a citation for that if weren’t on scene, didn’t observe it themselves and per policy we usually rely on personal observation by the officer,” Estes said.

Estes also said that it is not rare for officers to not issue citations and allow the insurance claim process to work itself out. He noted that officers do not assign fault while investigating an accident and citations are sometimes only issued if the major crash investigation unit gets involved.

“If there’s a fatality, if there’s a serious injury, if there’s some aggravating circumstance or independent witnesses who saw an egregious violation , certainly I would expect them and make sure we did find those cases,” Estes said.

But WBTV did find some of those crashes, and the driver still was not cited.

In 2016, two witnesses told police that a CMS school bus driver did not have the green light before hitting a van in an intersection. The other driver was sent to the hospital and his wife told WBTV he had a metal rod inserted in his leg during surgery.

WBTV asked Estes if not citing drivers might gloss over an incident for some CMS employees who already have a questionable driving record.

“I don’t know if the employer (CMS) that you talked about looks at it differently if they have a criminal charge,” Estes said.

“For us, we really look at the totality of the incident just to say what really happened, what were the circumstances surrounding the accident,” Johnson said.

But WBTV received records that show citations during a school bus crash can lead to termination.

In 2014, a CMS school bus driver was cited for failing to carry a driver’s license yield the right of way after a school bus crash. CMS records show he was terminated for those citations.

But largely, CMS bus drivers are not being cited by CMPD.

“Do you know why bus drivers are not receiving citations?” a WBTV reporter asked Johnson.

“Typically they don’t issue citations for drivers, they leave that up to us and the department,” Johnson said.

“Is there any type of agreement between CMPD and CMS about not writing citations or has that ever been discussed before?” a WBTV reporter asked Estes.

“No sir, we would never enter into such an agreement,” Estes said.

Copyright 2019 WBTV. All rights reserved.

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