Since 2013, bus drivers servicing Pueblo School Districts 60 and 70 got into 41 accidents. More than half ended up being the bus driver’s fault.
On top of that, News 5 Investigates found some bus drivers receiving red light violations and putting students in danger. Until now, both school districts say they had no idea about red light tickets until we started asking questions.
In September 2016, an Adams 12 Five Star school bus veered off the road at Denver International Airport and crashed into a concrete wall. More than a dozen high school students were rushed to nearby hospitals. The bus driver died, so we may never know what caused her to crash. Accident investigators were not able to pinpoint an exact cause.
“The number one priority for us is the safety of our students,” said Ed Smith, Pueblo District 70 Superintendent. Smith says he always has student safety on his mind and is concerned every time he hears about a bus crash.
Four of the nine bus accidents logged in his district since 2013 ended up being the bus driver’s fault. Fortunately, all of the accidents were “minor” compared to the bus crash at DIA last year.
“If there are accidents with kids on the bus at the time and it could be a danger to our students, it’s definitely something we want to know about,” Smith said.
The “service agreement” or contract between the bus company “First Student” and districts 60 and 70 requires the bus company notify school leaders any time one of its drivers gets into an accident, but what about near misses?
In one video, the light a red light camera intersection was red for several seconds as it captures a bus driver barreling through the intersection. The car with the green light had to stop in order to avoid an accident. The bus driver was ticketed, but neither school district was notified because under the contract, First Student can keep that information a secret.
We shared red light camera footage obtained from the Pueblo Police Department with D-70 Superintendent Ed Smith and Greg Keasling, the district’s Director of Student Services.
When News 5’s Lead Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked Keasling if he knew about these incidents, he said he didn’t. Ross then asked if he thinks this information should be released to the districts. “I think at this point after what we received through you, First Student and I need to sit down and have a conversation about being informed about that,” Keasling said.
Superintendent Smith said he agrees. “I’m very appreciative of you bringing this information to us and First Student. We wouldn’t know the information otherwise about buses running red lights.”
It’s impossible to know how many bus drivers are running red lights because only three out of 150 intersections in the City of Pueblo have red light cameras. What we can confirm is that those three cameras captured six bus drivers running lights since 2014.
According to First Student spokesperson Jen Biddinger, red light tickets are paid by the bus company using money it gets from the schools. Essentially, it’s your tax dollars.
“We want those bus drivers to be held accountable,” Smith said. “I think it’s important bus drivers pay for those tickets.”
According to Biddinger, First Student’s policy requires bus drivers pay back the money to the bus company, but she refused to provide proof that bus drivers are actually paying for their own tickets.
The lack of transparency does not sit well with some parents.
“If the bus driver gets a ticket, they should pay for it,” grandparent Eloy Garcia said. “They broke the law!”
Although none of the red light camera violations we saw reviewed ended with an accident, Superintendent Smith says he is concerned. “Even if it’s an intersection where there are very few accidents and very little traffic, all it takes is one accident and we need to prevent every one of those,” he said.
News 5 Investigates collected bus accident data from D-60 and D-70:
District 60 Accidents (2013-2017):
- Total: 32 Accidents
- At-fault: 18
- Percentage of at fault accidents: 56 percent
District 70 Accidents (2013-2017):
- Total: 9 accidents
- At-fault: 4
- Percentage of at fault accidents: 44 percent
D-70 and D-60 Combined Data:
- Total: 41 accidents
- At fault: 22
- Percentage of at fault accidents: 53 percent
*Not all accidents resulted in injuries. More than a dozen accidents involved a bus driver colliding with a parked car.
Pueblo School District 60 had a higher number of accidents and higher percentage of at-fault collisions and took this data directly to Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso.
“Anytime our bus drivers are involved in an accident while transporting students, that’s of high level of concern because the safety of our students is important to us,” Macaluso said.
Some accidents in D-60 are more severe. In 2015, a First Student bus driver lost control and slid into a power pole. According to district records, four students were injured. Pueblo police confirm the bus driver was ticketed.
Like D-70, D-60 is made aware of bus accidents that are “reportable by law,” but they are not kept in the loop on red light camera violations because both districts didn’t ask for it in their agreement with First Student. Both superintendents say moving forward, they’ll require First Student provide them with this data.
“Lots of people run red lights, but very few run red lights with 75 students behind us,” Smith said. “We and First Student will get to the bottom of it and take action.”
D-70 Superintendent Smith and D-60 Superintendent Macaluso say their district has a great working relations with First Student and strongly believe the majority of bus drivers are committed to getting children to and from school safely. Both reiterate that First Student bus drivers go through extensive training before being permitted to drive students.
First Student said in an email that yearly driving record checks are performed and that all employees are subject to random drug testing throughout their employment.
News 5 Investigates asked Biddinger for an on-camera interview to discuss our data and talk about the training bus drivers go through, but she declined. Our request to interview Mike Lomeli, the local transportation manager for First Student was also denied.
We have confirmed two of the bus drivers captured running red lights are no longer with First Student, but we don’t know whether it was a result of red light tickets.
Red light camera background information:
- Running a red light in the City of Pueblo carries a $75 fine.
- Although the fine is issued in the form of a “ticket,” Pueblo police say the citation is a “civil penalty violation.” This means that paying the citation or admitting guilt to running a light will not impact your driving score.
- First Student also reports that any driver who reaches 6 points on their license is not permitted to drive for them. However, this only applies to tickets issued by a law enforcement officer, not red light citations as “no points” are assessed.