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Parents say they complained about bus driver before wreck

October 10, 2000

Parents say they complained about bus driver before wreck



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


At least four parents complained that a school bus driver was driving too fast about seven months before an accident in September that shook up 39 students enough to send them to the hospital, according to the parents.

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Teresa Caldwell and Shannon Livingston said they each complained twice before the crash that the driver, Christine Ann Wachsmuth, drove too fast while picking up and dropping off students.

Wachsmuth maintains she wasn't speeding when the accident occurred and that she drives cautiously. "I wasn't going fast," she said. "It was an accident. It wasn't something intentional."

Caldwell and Livingston said they talked to the Washington County Board of Education Director of Transportation Chris Carter at a meeting of the Cascade Elementary School Citizens Advisory Council March 13.

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Caldwell said she also voiced her concerns to another member of the Transportation Department and Livingston said she met with Cascade Elementary Principal Timothy Abe at the beginning of the school year.

"We talked about the speed of the school buses," Livingston said. "The students were saying they were going too fast. It's really kind of scary."

Abe said he doesn't recall the speed issue coming up at the meeting. "If it was shared, it wasn't the primary concern," he said, adding that the main concern of the parents was bus overcrowding.

Parent Trisha DeLauter said she also complained to Carter about Wachsmuth driving too fast. "We have complained, and nobody's listening," DeLauter said. "I'm worried for the safety of my children and other children."

Caldwell, Livingston and DeLauter said they never received any responses from the school system on the matter. "We never did hear anything back," Caldwell said. "We got nowhere on it."

Pam DeWees, former chairwoman of the Cascade Elementary CAC, said she organized the March meeting with Carter after Caldwell, Livingston, and DeLauter expressed the same worries to her that the bus driver drove too fast.

"I had four parents complaining about the same bus driver," DeWees said. "It was just mostly about speeding."

The fourth parent could not be reached for comment.

DeWees said Carter told the parents that he wasn't aware of any drivers going too fast but that he would look into the issue.

Parents Carolyn Stotler and Karl Weissenbach attended the March meeting. Both backed the claims that speeding had been a concern of at least four parents who attended.

"Parents had concerns regarding the way she was driving," Carolyn Stotler said of Wachsmuth. "Chris Carter took notes and said he would check into the matter further."

Carter acknowledged that he met with the parents in March, but said he could not discuss which drivers they talked about because it was a personnel issue. He would not say if parents had concerns about whether Wachsmuth was speeding. He confirmed that they talked about drivers.

"If I received a concern, we looked into it the best we could. I never did hear anything more," Carter said.

The accident occurred Sept. 25 when the school bus Wachsmuth was driving slid on wet pavement heading downhill around a curve on Md. 77. The bus crossed the center line and side-swiped a dump truck.

Forty-seven middle and high school students were on the bus. Thirty-nine were taken to local hospitals but no one was admitted. None of the students was seriously injured.

Wachsmuth, 36, of Smithsburg, was found at fault for the accident, but was not charged by Maryland State Police, according to Lt. Randy Resh, commander of the Hagerstown barrack.

Resh said she was found at fault because the bus crossed the center line when it began sliding. She wasn't charged because a wet road caused the bus to slide. It had been raining the morning of the accident.

At a meeting last week with Carter, parents also said they thought Wachsmuth hadn't been charged because her husband is a state trooper stationed in Frederick, Md.

"It had nothing to do with it," Trooper Douglas Bird said. Bird was the investigating officer at the accident scene.

Bird said he also slid on a wet road on Route 60 about half an hour before the accident. "That's what made up my mind," he said. "I thought if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody."

Resh said he didn't know that Wachsmuth is married to a state trooper.

"That's news to me," Resh said.

Wachsmuth was on the job the day after the accident. Carter said she is in compliance with all applicable state and federal codes.

The driver of the dump truck, James Bowers of Smithsburg, refuted a claim made by Wachsmuth Friday that the bus would not have crashed if the dump truck hadn't been coming up the hill.

"It was going to happen regardless of who was there," Bowers said. "If I was in a regular car, she probably would have killed me."

Wachsmuth now refutes that her own children were on the bus when the accident occurred, which she had told a Herald-Mail reporter in a telephone interview.

"My kids were on that bus," Wachsmuth said Oct. 5. "My kids ride my bus."

Wachsmuth said Monday she never made the statement. She said her children are scheduled to ride her bus to school but they decided to find their own rides on the day of accident.

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