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Bus had just passed inspection

April 13, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A routine state inspection last week failed to find any mechanical problems with the Berkeley County school bus that ran into the back of a second school bus Monday afternoon, sending dozens of students to area hospitals.

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Berkeley County Schools officials continue to investigate the accident in which one bus struck the back of another that had stopped at a railroad underpass on Riner Shop Road near Hedgesville, W.Va.

At least 29 students from Hedgesville Middle and High schools and both drivers were treated for minor injuries at hospitals in Martinsburg, Hagerstown, Md., and Winchester, Va.

One student held overnight for observation at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown was released Tuesday, a hospital official said.

With the safety of the students deemed the first priority, Berkeley County Schools officials are reviewing the circumstances of the accident.

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West Virginia State Police said Christa Stewart, 38, of Martinsburg, was driving a bus with 55 students on board when she ran into the back of the stopped bus about a half-mile south of Grade Road.

Stewart's bus crashed into a bus driven by George Miller, 43, of Hedgesville, that was carrying 41 students.

Stewart was charged with failure to maintain control of her bus, police said.

The 1997 International bus driven by Stewart had been inspected last week by the state and no mechanical problems were found, said Berkeley County Schools Director of Transportation Larry Carte.

An initial inspection of both buses after the accident also failed to reveal any mechanical problems, said Carte.

Monday's accident was the 40th this year involving a Berkeley County School bus, but Carte said that figure was misleading because the district classifies an accident as any time a bus strikes, or is struck by, another object.

"A tree branch that breaks a mirror would be classified as an accident," said Carte.

All of the accidents this year before Monday's incident were minor and did not result in any injuries, said Carte.

Ten of the 40 accidents happened when another vehicle ran into a school bus.

The county employs 106 drivers to carry 11,000 students across 1.8 million miles each year, said Carte.

Berkeley County averages about 40 incidents classified as accidents each year involving buses, which is on par with similar-sized school districts in West Virginia, said state Board of Education Transportation Executive Director Wayne Clutter.

Jefferson County Schools have had 16 bus accidents this year and Morgan County Schools have had five bus accidents, said Clutter.

The Hedgesville accident is the biggest involving a school bus carrying children this year, he said.

A mechanic driving an empty school bus was killed in Beckley, W.Va., last month when his bus was hit by a cement truck, said Clutter.

Once Berkeley County Schools officials have gathered reports on Monday's accident, the material will be reviewed by a committee that includes a principal, a Berkeley County sheriff's deputy, a driving examiner, two bus drivers and a member of the county's School Transportation Administration, said Carte.

Carte said any disciplinary action in the accident would have to be approved by the Berkeley County school board and said possible action includes dismissal.

Both drivers are on medical leave and Carte said it was unknown when they might return to their routes.

Stewart became a regular bus driver this year after serving three years as a substitute for the district, said Carte. Miller has been driving for the district since October 1988.

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