No charges against bus driver in death of child

Published 8:35 am Thursday, February 5, 2009

Moments before a school bus struck and killed a 4-year-old student at Riverdale Elementary School on Jan. 9, the bus driver had received a signal that the area was clear and could exit the parking lot, according to police investigators.

No criminal charges will be filed against Franklin resident Barbara Ellis, whom the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office identified as the driver when it released its preliminary investigative findings Wednesday.

The investigation revealed that 13 buses service Riverdale Elementary, located at 31023 Camp Parkway, and each bus is assigned a specific parking space in the bus port area behind the building.

According to the sheriff’s office, “upon arrival, the oldest students were discharged from their respective buses to the school building. The younger students are released after the older students.”

Investigators said Jameer Khamarie Woodley, a pre-kindergarten student, was a passenger on Bus 980, which was parked in parking space No. 3. He was the last student off of the bus. Ellis was driving Bus 931, which was parked in parking space No. 6 and had just finished unloading her passengers. It was not known if the parking spaces were three spaces apart.

After receiving a signal that the area was clear, Ellis pulled her bus from its space and made a right turn into the travel lane of the parking lot. Jameer was crossing the travel lane at the time and was struck by the left front of Ellis’ bus, according to the report. Jameer was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators did not say what type of signal was given to Ellis to proceed, how many individuals gave the signal, or where they were positioned in the parking lot when the signal was given.

The investigation was reviewed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office for Southampton County, which determined that no criminal charges are warranted.

It was not clear if unloading older students before younger ones is a standard policy at all elementary schools in the Southampton County Schools division, only at Riverdale, or if it is a policy at all. It was also not known if Ellis has returned to work as a bus driver.

A separate investigation into the accident by the county school board is continuing.

See Friday’s print edition of The Tidewater News for more details.