Bus crash puts focus on safety

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

Fulton County school superintendents will argue that the number of drivers ignoring stopped school buses is on the rise. Yet citations issued for the violations may be fewer than expected.

An injury accident just after 4 p.m. on March 27 involved a semi truck that failed to stop and smashed Archbold’s No. 8 yellow school bus from behind as it was stopped on U.S. 6 in Henry County with its stop sign and flashing lights activated. Bus driver JoAnn Cousino was dropping off the sons of Dustin Buehrer in front of his family’s business, Triple 6 Outdoor.

An Archbold school bus driver for 17 years, Cousino saw the semi truck approaching quickly. “I knew he was not going to be stopping, so as the boys were exiting I told them to run,” she said. “I have had issues with drivers not stopping for my lights but I have never been hit before.”

Buehrer was working inside when he heard the crash. He went out to investigate and saw the twisted remains of the Archbold school bus and his boys, ages seven and nine, running toward him. Witnessing the aftermath of the crash, “I just couldn’t believe it. I’m just thankful that no one was hurt,” he said.

Cousino and the truck driver, Kelly Braden of Monroe, Mich., were taken to Fulton County Health Center as a precaution. Two other children on the bus when the accident occurred were uninjured and released to their parents.

The collision was recorded by an exterior security camera and received national media attention when it went viral on social media. It can be seen at https://bit.ly/2WuBrwJ.

Pending an investigation, no citations for the crash have been issued. In this instance it was captured on video, but identification often isn’t easy in cases of violations against school buses.

The Ohio Revised Code states a motorist must stop at least 10 feet from the front or rear of a school bus that has stopped to take on or let off passengers. The statute says a motorist can’t proceed until either the bus is again in motion or the bus driver signals it’s clear to go.

Violating the law can result in up to a $500 fine and a driving suspension.

In 2018, the Fulton County’s Sheriff’s Office did issue nine citations to motorists who failed to stop for school buses; one citation has been issued so far this year. Most of the drivers were reported by the bus drivers or the transportation supervisors of the county’s seven school districts.

But Sheriff Roy Miller said gathering sufficient information to cite the motorists can be a challenge, moreso because some incidents are never reported.

Some do get recorded by cameras installed in the buses, and sheriff’s deputies have staked out potential trouble spots on county roadways. If requested, they will ride a particular school bus experiencing the problem.

Still, Miller said, identifying offending drivers can be difficult, since their vehicles remain in motion.

Three reports of vehicles passing school buses were issued to Delta police in 2018, leading to one citation. Chief Nathan Hartsock said reports by school bus drivers are investigated, and offenders identified after the fact receive a warning.

When officers talk to a suspected driver, “nine times out of 10 they put themselves at the scene,” he said.

Delta police officers do intermittently observe school bus routes to ensure there are no violations.

Since 2016, the Swanton Police Department has issued a single citation for a vehicle passing a stopped school bus. Two reports were filed in 2017, five in 2018, and two so far this year. Yet all were submitted after the fact, before the drivers were positively identified, so none involved citations.

A Swanton school bus was rear-ended in 2018 as it was stopped at railroad tracks, its lights flashing. No one was injured, and the bus was not damaged.

Superintendent Chris Lake said the school district’s bus drivers undergo classroom and road training, assisted by a certified driver trainer.

He said Swanton school buses have been passed while stopped, and his conversations with local school superintendents suggest those violations are increasing throughout the county.

“Because our drivers are so aware of the increase in distracted drivers they have become even more cautious when they approach bus stops,” he said.

Shoop Avenue can be a trouble spot in Wauseon. Assistant Police Chief Kevin Chittenden said two citations were issue in 2018 after officers observed violations at bus stops there.

“A lot of people don’t understand that, even though there are three lanes, they’re required to stop on both sides,” he said of the roadway.

In total, Wauseon police received 15 reports last year of vehicles passing stopped school buses. The drivers who were identified later were given warnings.

Wauseon schools reported a single bus accident last year; the driver was not cited and there were no injuries. A battery compartment door that opened on the vehicle during the incident was damaged by a passing truck.

Superintendent Larry Brown said prior to CDL certification bus drivers receive extensive training from a certified on-board instructor. They also undergo safety training for a minimum of four hours annually. The district’s transportation staff completes two days of professional development and attends monthly safety training meetings.

“Based on recent advancements in technology, drivers have more things that can distract them from safe driving practices,” including their approach to a stopped school bus, Brown said.

Miller said the resulting accidents and violations can be avoided if drivers would simply practice patience.

“When you see those yellow lights on, they’re going to make a stop. Just sit back and relax,” he said.

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.