The driver of a school bus which crashed into a portion of guard rail with students on board has been removed from the job, according to Department of Education officials.
A school bus carrying at least 15 students from Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay, was en route to Cruz Bay when it slammed into a portion of guard rail on Centerline Road between Upper Carolina and Ajax Peak around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, April 4.
Immediately following the accident, the bus driver — whose name was not officially released by DOE officials, except being referred to as “Junior” — called a second bus to pick up the students. The students were removed from the first bus and transferred to the second bus before emergency responders arrived.
Parents didn’t find out about the accident until students arrived in Cruz Bay. Several parents took their children to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center for evaluation, but it took several days before DOE was able to contact all parents. Luckily, none of the children were seriously injured as a result of the accident.
The buses are owned and operated by Varlack Ventures, a contract operator for the V.I. Department of Education, which initially caused confusion regarding emergency procedures and protocol.
In addition to DOE officials, who conducted their own investigation and met with concerned parents at two meetings in the weeks after the incident, V.I. Police Department’s Traffic Safety Division officers also investigated the April accident.
“The driver stated that the bus had a steering defect that caused the crash,” said VIPD spokesperson Melody Rames. “However, after a Motor Carrier inspection, the bus was found to be safe and in good working condition.”
“The driver was found to negligible by failing to operate the vehicle in a safe manner,” said Rames.
Besides being found negligible, the driver was not charged with a crime.
DOE officials also wrapped up their investigation. Despite a program of installing video cameras on school buses, DOE did not have tape from the accident. For some unknown reason, that video camera was never turned on, DOE officials told GBS and Julius E. Sprauve School parents at a late April meeting.
DOE St. Thomas/St. John District Insular Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry was off-island last week and unable to answer questions about the department’s investigation of the April accident.
DOE spokesperson Ananta Pancham, however, confirmed that “Junior” was no longer driving students on St. John
“The superintendent said in terms of the bus service, the driver has been removed,” said Pancham.
In the wake of the accident, St. John Rescue members volunteered to ride the bus as monitors and help discipline students. No progress has been made on that front, according to the group’s communications officer Gilly Grimes.
“We offered to volunteer and it was up to the Department of Education to move forward,” said Grimes. “I told them we would definitely help. If we could monitor the ruckus on the back of the bus, the driver could worry about driving and that’s all.”
“People are willing so we’ll see if we hear from them,” said Grimes.