School bus driver charged with recklessness

Published 3:32 pm Saturday, January 12, 2019

Reception issues in the area where a Southampton school bus had an accident last week are the reason for delays in quickly notifying parents, according to division superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon.

On Thursday, Southampton County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Gene Drewery informed The Tidewater News that a Courtland woman driving the bus has been charged with reckless driving, after a single-vehicle accident on Jan. 4 on Old Joyner Lane in the Capron area. He added that the office got the call at approximately 5:18 p.m. Multiple county fire and rescue units were dispatched. Five of the 23 students on board were treated for minor injuries and taken to hospitals in Franklin and Emporia. They were later released that evening.

Drewery added that on investigation, it was found that the accident occurred at approximately 4:19 p.m. But Shannon told this reporter she believed the time he gave was incorrect. In a press statement released on Friday afternoon, the event is listed at approximately 4:47 p.m.

Nevertheless, asked about this gap between the accident and when it was reported, the superintendent stated that Capron Elementary School Principal Dr. Allison Francis, division administrators Chris Tsitsera and Riverdale Elementary Principal Will Melbye first assessed the situation on-site. They ensured that 911 had been called, and began to immediately try to contact parents.

“Issues with reception when attempting to access the student database at the scene caused a delay in the initial contact,” added Shannon.

She established the command station at the division office and then reported to the scene. At the office, administrators, secretaries and other personnel also notified parents via social media and then by the instant alert system.

Shannon also stated that students remaining at the scene were transported home on another school bus driven by the bus garage supervisor who had just completed a route in the area. Dr. Francis went with these students on the ride home.

As for the possible cause of the accident, Drewery later told the newspaper, “It appears the bus was traveling too fast for the road conditions and ran off the road and hit a tree. There were no other vehicles involved.”

The superintendent wrote the driver stated it was raining, the dirt road was extremely muddy, and as she went around a curve, the bus began to slide.

“When the bus came to a stop, the driver stated that she immediately checked on the students and there were no visible signs of bleeding or serious injury. The bus driver followed existing protocol issued by the transportation department and developed in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services: School Crisis, Emergency and Medical Emergency Response Plan.

“We are extremely grateful that there were no serious injuries to students or staff and for the assistance of all emergency agencies,” wrote Shannon. “The accident was very unfortunate, however, we have taken several steps to improve our procedures in accident response. An addendum has been made to the existing plan, protocol adjusted, and additional training has already occurred. All drivers are required to call 911 immediately if an accident occurs regardless of injuries. This has been conveyed in training and placed on a memorandum that has been given to all drivers.”

Trina Woolard, 58, the driver, has also been charged with failure to maintain proper control of a vehicle. She was released on a summons to appear in Southampton General District Court on Friday, March 15, at 9 a.m. Woolard has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of all components of the investigation.