Troopers enforce rules for bus safety
HUNTINGTON — It only took three stops before someone ignored the flashing stop sign on bus No. 743 as it dropped off children at 6th Avenue and 2nd Street in Huntington on Friday afternoon.
The driver was pulled over and cited for failure to stop for a school bus by West Virginia State Police Trooper S.S. Gula, who was following behind the bus. Another trooper, Cpl. R.S. Charlton, was riding on the bus.
The effort was part of a partnership between the state police and the West Virginia Department of Education for National School Bus Safety Week. Troopers boarded buses statewide during the week to catch and cite those caught breaking the law.
Bus driver Patrick Blankenship said it was good to have Charlton on board to see what he faces every day as he makes his stops in Huntington.
"I see a lot of people running my red light, and they just don't care," Blankenship said. "It puts a lot of kids in jeopardy."
This school year, Blankenship already has captured information, which is passed on to local law enforcement, on seven vehicles that illegally passed his bus.
Joe Meadows, the assistant transportation director of Cabell County Schools, said during a similar safety effort in May that some buses are equipped with side cameras that constantly record. Sometimes, the video possesses license plate information that is then passed on to one of the two high school resources officers to try and track down the driver, who is then summonsed to Cabell County Magistrate Court.
Blankenship said there were three close calls Thursday, and he described seeing a rise in reckless disregard for the law and safety of children during his three years driving the route.
"It's getting really bad. People have no respect for the lights," he said, adding that having troopers on the bus is important because it lets drivers know law enforcement officials are paying attention.
There is usually at least one incident each year that results in a child getting hit. Last week, after the department of education announced the state trooper ride-a-longs, a Nicholas County girl suffered a broken leg and foot after being struck by a motorist while crossing the street after getting off the bus.
Witnesses said the accident occurred when a driver failed to stop for the school bus' flashing red flights and extended stop arm. Such violations happen hundreds of times every school day in West Virginia, putting children at risk of injury or death about 90,000 times each year.
Drivers who fail to stop when a school bus stops and flashes its warning lights can be charged with a felony if their actions result in injury or death and also can lose their license. A driver who causes an injury faces up to three years in prison; a driver who kills someone could be put in prison for up to 10 years. Those who simply fail to stop can be charged with a misdemeanor and jailed up to six months.
The penalties were strengthened by lawmakers in 2010 when legislation dubbed "Haven's Law" was passed. It was named for 6-year-old Haven McCarthy, who was killed in 2007 after getting off a school bus in Lincoln County.