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Berkeley County schools closed Wednesday after bus tires flattened

May 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Berkeley County Public Schools were closed Wednesday after 110 tires on 85 school buses parked in the district's garage were deflated early that morning, school officials and West Virginia State Police said.

Valve stems and cores were removed or partially unscrewed from at least one tire on all but two buses parked at the school district transportation department's facility at 88 Harlan Springs Road northwest of Martinsburg, police and school officials said.

"There are 87 buses on site; they skipped two," school district spokesperson Jaimee Borger said. Another nine buses were on the property, but were not within view of the others. The other half of the county's 192-bus fleet were parked at drivers' homes, Borger said.

The flattened tires was the only damage found after school officials inspected the vehicles, but a final assessment was not expected to be complete until this morning when drivers arrive to begin their routes, Borger said.

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The incident happened about 3 a.m., and a substitute bus driver discovered the vandalism about 5:15 a.m., police said. State troopers D.S. See and J.R. Barker responded about 15 minutes later.

"It's most likely they just climbed the fence," Sgt. T.C. Kearns said of the vandals' access to the gated property. The fence, estimated to be about 7 feet high, is topped with barbed wire and the compound is monitored with surveillance cameras.

"We don't think it's a senior prank," Borger said. "We'll see."

Kearns would not say how many people were involved. He said police were reviewing security video, recovered physical evidence and tips they received.

The vandals could be charged with trespassing, vehicle tampering and destruction of property, Kearns said.

A school maintenance official said it takes about 10 minutes for each tire to be inflated. Borger said the tires were reinflated by 10:30 a.m. The Jefferson County Schools Transportation Department provided an additional air compressor at no charge, Borger said.

"A lot of people pitched in that we didn't even ask," Borger said. School officials estimated the work by contractors to treat and inflate the tires will cost about $900, Borger said.

"I don't want people to think that the air cost that amount," Borger said.

The cancellation of classes also affected students from Jefferson and Morgan counties who attend James Rumsey Technical Institute near Hedgesville, W.Va.

Eight field trips for Berkeley County Schools scheduled for Wednesday during the school day were canceled -- six for elementary school students and two for intermediate students, Borger said.

The school district's closing was the eighth districtwide cancellation of class in the 2007-08 academic year, Borger said. The other seven days were missed because of inclement weather, Borger said.

The last day for students was scheduled to be June 2, but school officials extended the year until June 6 because of days already missed, Borger said.

Built in 1990, the bus garage is somewhat secluded, but Kearns said the school district appeared to have reasonable security measures in place. The compound includes offices for the school district's transportation department and work bays for in-house oil changes and other maintenance.

Additional security measures, including lighting, are expected to be added, Borger said.

Of the county's 192 buses, 160 are used regularly, Borger said.

Anyone with information about the vandalism may call state police at 304-267-2001 or e-mail WVStatepolice.com

A reward of as much as $1,500 is being offered through Berkeley County Crime Solvers, and school officials were considering increasing the amount, Borger said.


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