Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TOP STORY >> School probes railroad-bus wreck

This bus belonging to the Lonoke Exceptional Development Center had $30,000 damage along the tracks, while the train that hit it had $10,000 damage.

By JEFFREY SMITH

Leader staff writer

A Union Pacific train slammed into a Lonoke Exceptional School bus at 6:40 a.m. Monday in Jacksonville.

The five passengers and bus driver got out of the bus before impact.

Bus driver Charles Grady, 68, of Lonoke was picking up a rider in Jacksonville to take to the Lonoke Exceptional Development Center in Lonoke.

On board were a bus aide, three children ages 2, 3, and 5 years old and an adult client who attends the program.

In a police report, Grady told officers he had just picked up a bus rider on Hickory Street. He pulled into a gravel parking lot at the corner of East Hickory and North Spring streets, so he could pull through the parking lot onto North Spring Street to turn around.

As Grady was making a right turn, he said he was blinded by a streetlight. He drove off the road and onto the railroad tracks.

Grady then called 911. He unloaded the passengers and got them to a safe location away from the bus.

Train engineer Timothy Jones told police he was headed north on Track 2 and saw the vehicle on the tracks. Jones applied the brakes but the train hit the vehicle. The train came to a stop after impact.

The school’s executive director, Janie Sexton, said Grady did not have any accidents before. He has worked for the school for several years.

Sexton said, “It is an ongoing investigation. We are waiting on the police report. We did an internal investigation as well and we have a safety committee.

“Anytime there is a serious incident with a driver, we suspend them until the investigation is complete.,” Sexton said. “The driver is immediately taken for a drug and breathalyzer test.”

Jacksonville Police Department spokeswoman April Kiser said state law does not require law enforcement to test bus drivers for drugs or alcohol after an accident unless the officers believe that intoxication was a factor.

The bus aide immediately helped with the evacuation, Sexton said.

A parent of one of the children on the bus also helped get the students off the bus. Sexton said they were off the bus and far from the debris when the train hit the bus.

“We are very grateful no one was injured, that the bus aide responded so quickly and thankful to the parent that assisted and made things go faster,” Sexton said.

No citations were issued.

Damage to the 2001 Chevy bus was estimated at $30,000. Damage to the train was estimated at $10,000.

Sexton said bus drivers are required to have a physical, and Grady had a current physical.

The Exceptional School practices emergency exits from buses.

“We regularly train our drivers and bus aides for evacuations. We practice those on a regular basis,” Sexton said.