No charges for bus driver

Published 8:32 am Friday, February 6, 2009

COURTLAND—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 Barbara Ellis, whom the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office identified as the driver when it released its preliminary investigative findings Wednesday.

A school official confirmed Thursday that Ellis, who lives near Ivor, has returned to work as a bus driver.

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.

Detective Cpl. Richard Morris, a spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, said the parking spaces are in numerical order and are 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. Jameer was pronounced dead at the scene.

“She did not see him,” Morris said.

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

“I did not find that there was any criminal intent, nor was it appropriate to bring any other traffic charges, although I certainly extend my condolences to the (Woodley) family,” Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke said.

Morris said there would be no charges filed against anyone involved in the accident. He added that the investigation was ongoing, and that the sheriff’s office is waiting for a report from the medical examiner’s office.

Investigators declined to elaborate on 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.

Dr. Wayne Smith, the director of administration for Southampton County Public Schools, declined to answer questions about the signaling process.

Smith said Ellis has returned to work as a bus driver. He would not say how long she has been a bus driver, if she was suspended after the accident, or when she was possibly reinstated.

Smith declined to comment on whether unloading older students before younger ones is a standard policy at all elementary schools in the division, only at Riverdale, or if it is a policy at all. Smith also would not say whether the accident would precipitate any changes to loading and unloading students onto buses at schools throughout the division.

Smith said the county school board’s separate investigation into the accident was ongoing, and that Superintendent Charles Turner would ultimately decide whether or not to release that investigation’s findings to the public.

Turner did not return repeated calls for comment.