WMC Investigates: Shelby Co. Schools bus crashes
(WMC) - Six school bus crashes -- and it's not even October.
Shelby County Schools' private school bus contractor, Chicago-based Durham School Services, has had six school bus drivers involved in accidents -- some with either driver or student injuries -- since Aug. 19.
Tommy Anderson, the Durham school bus driver involved in a Sept. 5 accident while transporting Treadwell Elementary students, was charged with driving without a state driver's license.
"When the news reported that he had no license, I mean, I was just livid," said Tonya Devoto of Berclair, whose two seventh-grade boys rode Anderson's bus. "The boys were coming home late. They weren't even being picked up after that situation."
The WMC Action News 5 Investigators asked the school district to verify Anderson's employment and disciplinary status after the accident. Its communications staff assured us we'd be updated.
It's been 19 days since the accident. No update.
At Tuesday's SCS school board meeting, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said with 1,200 new and unfamiliar routes, bus accidents are bound to happen. But he added Durham School Services' current frequency of accidents, evidence of at least one unlicensed driver and a curious recruitment drive outside of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center demand some explanations.
"We need to have some assurances that the vendors are taking steps to make sure our children are adequately protected," he said.
Molly Hart, Durham School Services' corporate manager of public relations and media, e-mailed the following statement:
"In Memphis, we operate 700 buses a day. Our bus drivers are among the most highly screened, trained, and tested drivers on the road; they undergo drug and alcohol testing, driving record and FBI background checks, and medical exams, among other screening tools, and then go on to receive specialized classroom and behind-the-wheel training. Durham meets and exceeds State and Federal mandates for school bus driver screening and training. Our screening process for bus drivers is very stringent, evidenced by the fact that less than 10% of applicants are hired and put on route.
As for the issue regarding the bus driver's license: Durham is typically informed by the State when a person loses his or her license, and in this case we were not notified.
In regards to our recruiting effort, the intent is to create awareness for employment opportunities, which leads us to advertise in high traffic areas. Our bus parked on Poplar over the summer was not directed towards any specific building, and as we stated earlier this year, was an unfortunate placement.
Durham School Services' top priority is the safety of the students we transport."
"How can you say the safety of our children is put first if you don't even have credentials on these people who are driving?" asked Devoto.
The WMC Action News 5 Investigators have petitioned the school district through Tennessee's open records law for the names, home addresses, lengths of service and bus routes of every Durham School Services bus driver who serves SCS. We plan to run our own background checks. Keep checking here for updates.
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