WJHL.com - Five months after bus wreck, is new driver going speed limit?

Five months after bus wreck, is new driver going speed limit?

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It was a phone call dozens of parents wish they never received. In a matter of seconds, they learned their kids' school bus flipped and left many students seriously injured.

It all played out on winding Mt. Wesley Road in Washington County, Tennessee, last September. Even worse, investigators say the bus driver's reckless driving is what caused the crash. Brenda Gray is accused of driving at least 57 miles per hour in a 30 that afternoon. She is now charged with dozens of crimes in connection to the wreck.

14 year-old Renee Warren was on the bus the day it crashed. Although the David Crockett High School freshman is healing from her physical injuries, it's a different story when it comes to the emotional impact

"She had a broken bone in her foot, a cracked bone in her left ankle, she had lower spine injuries, a major concussion," her mother Sharon Warren said. "She's doing the PTSD thing pretty bad."

Still, her parents urged her to get back on the bus and face her fears. So she did.

"It's the only way you get over them," her father Danny Warren said.

Gray is no longer a bus driver in Washington County. Instead, a new driver has taken over her old route. So is that person going the speed limit?

We took a radar gun to the scene of the crash. The first time we clocked the driver going 34 miles per hour in a 30. He was traveling downhill at the time and once he saw us he slowed down. 34 is much slower than the previous driver, but it is still above the speed limit.

Before we took our results to the director of schools, we wanted to give the bus driver one more chance, so we returned to Mt. Wesley Road on a rainy day. In the slicker conditions, he wasn't speeding the second time. We clocked him right at 30.

"I'm glad to hear that actually," Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said after hearing the bus driver was going the speed limit the second time.

But what about our first encounter?

"I never want any bus over the speed limit and hopefully the driver was well in control the few miles he was in excess, but we certainly don't want our buses speeding in any fashion," Dykes said. "Four miles per hour, I don't know if those are the acceptable margins of error, either in the calibration of equipment or if its margin of error in what law enforcement allows. I know there is some leeway there. There's not one simple answer. Of course, I would prefer that buses are never over the speed limit. I don't know what the reality of anyone driving never going over the speed limit is, but nonetheless, we caution them about it. All drivers are held accountable for their actions."

In the months since the crash, Dykes says he's received three or four unfounded complaints about speeding bus drivers, none of which included the new bus driver on the Mt. Wesley Road route. Still, Dykes says our findings are enough to prompt him to talk to the driver.

Over the past several months, Dykes says he and supervisors have sent out multiple safety reminders to all 104 bus drivers in the district and he says there may be even more significant action taken in the future. The county is considering a sweeping change that would monitor buses at all times through the use of GPS systems in every bus. If approved and installed, they could alert supervisors if a bus brakes too hard, rounds a curve too fast, or speeds, Dykes said.

"I think a GPS system will upgrade our vigilance considerably," Dykes said. "We are always in the process of trying to remind our professional drivers the responsibility they have. The simple fact that this GPS monitor and alert system will allow us to know what that bus is doing at any moment in time adds to not only our ability to monitor, but the driver's themselves understand this responsibility is truly be monitored by a supervisor."

The school system has a total of 123 school buses. Since the crash, Dykes says workers have also gone back and checked the cameras in every bus to make sure they are all functioning properly. The camera in Gray's bus was not functioning the day of the crash.

After we left his office, we returned one more time to Mt. Wesley Road. This time, well aware we could be watching him, the driver was driving well below the speed limit. 23 was the fastest he went.

Back at Renee Warren's house, she and her parents chimed in on our results, particularly the first one.

"It's better when he goes slower," the teenager said.

"It's ok," her mom said. "I'd rather them stay right about the 30 and below."

"It is a lot better than 60," her dad said.

The teenager's mom and dad are realistic.

"I would prefer him be at or below the speed limit, but that is acceptable, I can understand that," her dad said.

They know their daughter will ride the bus for three more years. They just want her to be safe. At least once before she was not.

"I get really nervous," her mom said. "I get scared again that she's going to get hurt. Kids are precious. You only get them one time."

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